Crinkle, the Plump Cat

Crinkle is fat. Not morbidly obese, but certainly chubby. After he started eating well, he didn’t stop for a breather for four months. At that time, he finally tapered off. He still likes to eat, but I don’t have to change his name to Hungry.

Since I had originally saved him with the intention of a new barn cat, I considered letting him out of the house one day to see if he wanted to go hunt the vermin; his response was a resounding “no, thanks.” He spends his days washing, nibbling, and napping on favorite spots (one of which is on me). He does play. He likes a game of “Da bird,” but does not seem interested in the small cat nip toys that lay around. I think I can safely say, Crinkle is one happy cat.

His favorite spot to be scratched is his chin. He likes a good belly rub and generally any gentle rub. He follows me just about everywhere. He exudes contentment. I look at him with his deformed ear and the scar on his tail from his maggot infested wound and wonder what his story is. I think his past bothers me more than it bothers him. That’s a wonderful thing about animals. They live in the present. While the past certainly affects them, most are able to get over it and enjoy life now. I look back and remember holding what appeared to be a dying Crinkle in my arms and telling him I loved him. Maybe that made a difference in his recovery, maybe it didn’t. But, I am sure glad he is in my life now.

Adventures as a Seminar Consultant

 

I have been asked twice to be the consulting veterinarian for a Pat Hastings seminar. Pat Hastings is an internationally known dog expert. She is a judge, an author, and a former professional handler. Pat is smart and well informed. You might just call me a groupie. I have gone to a number of her seminars over the past ten years. I have learned so much both as a veterinarian and a dog sport enthusiast.

The recent seminars I attended were titled “Structure in Action”. I had read the book by that title and had signed up for the seminars prior to being asked to be the consulting veterinarian. I was excited to be a part of the activity.

The basis of the seminars is to evaluate canine structure and analyze the suitability of a particular dog’s build for what it is supposed to do in life. Dogs used in sports have to be well built to prevent pain and injury. Dogs do not ask to participate in competitions or specific activity, but generally enjoy the training and time spent with their people! Dogs like to have a job, whether it is hunting, agility, jogging with their owners, or playing fetch in the yard. It is our responsibility to ensure that our dogs are in condition and have the inherent structure to do what we ask without endangering their health.

At the first seminar, a flyball team drove across the state to have team dogs evaluated for competition. It was fascinating to observe Pat go over each dog visually and then with her hands to detect slight faults that could leave the dogs prone to serious injury. I was there to add a veterinarian’s view on problems that were found. A number of the team dogs were found to have issues that made them unsuitable for the sport. Flyball is very hard on elbows and hocks. Dogs with poorly put together joints are much more likely to get hurt, therefore, really should not be participating in the sport.

At the second seminar, a lovely dog with a list of titles in various sports was evaluated. He had had a previous injury to his stifle (knee) joint that had been repaired. On evaluation, the dog was found to have a “slipped hock”, or bad ankle, in the same leg as the repair. The owner had no idea. It was most likely the cause of the stifle injury. Despite this dog having performed well in his career, he had always worked at a disadvantage, most likely working through pain and having to compensate for the bad hock joint he was born with.

I look at pets regularly with an eye developed through my experience with dog sports. How does this apply to a family pet? I can see conformational weaknesses that are going to contribute to arthritis or injuries. I may be able to advise owners what nutritional supplements or diets will help keep dogs healthy and pain free. Veterinarians do not get this kind of training in school. I enjoy this aspect of practice as it ties my avocation to my occupation and I think it makes me a better veterinarian.

 

 

photo at top courtesy of f/rome via Fickr

photo at bottom by Roxanne Franklin

Barney, the Barn Cat

Barney, Master of his Domain

 

When I moved to a property that had a stable for my horses, I realized immediately that I would need barn cats to control rodent populations in the barn. At that time, Ruth Steinert Memorial SPCA was closing its doors in Tamaqua. I went there and adopted two cats, Barney and Fred. They were happy to be in a home with food, water, good sleeping arrangements and attention.

Barney was a character. Always very social, he greeted guests with charm and guile. But, then his true nature would show and he’d bite. He bit quite a few people over the years. No hospital care needed. I would tell people to pet him briefly and walk away. If he drops down, looking all cute, “DON’T TOUCH”. Of course, most people ignored me and paid the price. At dinner one night with a group of friends, almost all confessed to a bite from the charming (?) barn cat. One thing was for sure, Barney made an impression…..

He was the disciplinarian of the dogs, resident or otherwise. All dogs kept a wide berth. When running as a pack on the property, it was not unusual to see the group of dogs split up to go around the controlling cat in a big half circle. Barney had a soft spot for puppies. He was always sweet to them until they reached about 12 weeks of age. It was then time to teach them a lesson, which he always did, leaving them with a healthy fear of the tuxedo cat.

Barney terrorized visiting dogs as well. On more than one occasion, he made dogs retreat , screaming in fear with a bleeding nose. In one case, a well meaning Golden Retriever was slapped in the barn. Her owners put the poor dog in their car and, no kidding, Barney went and jumped on the hood of the car to continue his bullying.

My own dog, Sparkle, was training one day, going through a closed agility tunnel, which is a tunnel with fabric that the dog literally has to nose their way through. Barney jumped on the moving piece of cloth without reserve, horrifying the poor dog that couldn’t see what was on the outside. After Sparkle was finally out of the tunnel, he continued his attack. Sparkle would never train with Barney around after that.

Throughout Barney’s life he would go on “walk abouts” that would last for days. I would always be worried that he was not going to make it home. He always did. He was collared and microchipped, but came home on his own. The longest stretch was twenty three days. I had almost given up hope.

Barney generally chose to come in the house about once a year. He would then sleep for a day then return to barn life. At the ripe old age of seventeen, Barney was treated for hyperthyroidism. He did well and lived another year outside. At eighteen, I made the decision to enforce house restriction for him as he was getting feeble and needed treatment for arthritis. He died on his own at nineteen years old.

I called Barney my charismatic curmudgeon. He was that and more. He was a vital member of the Canterbury Tails critters for many years.

 

Crinkle, the Healthy Cat

 

Crinkle is now 11 weeks past his rescue from starvation. He is a house cat that enjoys napping on couches and beds. He has met his goal weight of twelve pounds and is thinking about attaining more (we are having discussions about that!). He loves to join the games every night of Da Bird and Fling-ama-string (it’s a real cat toy). Most of all, he loves me. He sleeps with me, sits with me, follows me.

This recovered tabby is now a healthy robust cat. Crinkle can jump on anything he desires. He has no parasites, no wounds or infections. His relationship with other cats is peaceful enough. His relationship with the dogs is simple…he is the boss. He is a happy camper.

One change I see as he has gotten well is his reversion to fear around people. While he obviously trusts me and is comfortable around me, he now is suspicious of other people. He hides or runs when friends want to see him. Everybody wants to see him in person to see how much better he looks, but he is not interested in showing off the “new Crinkle”. I suspect this change is due to his memories of life on the streets and survival.

As are many people, I am delighted at his recovery. I never expected to have a new buddy in the form of a well used cat. Crinkle, welcome back to life.

Update on Crinkle, the Rescued Cat

Crinkle’s story seemed to have an effect on so many. After a month of struggling to get his appetite up to par, he is finally eating well.  With medication and a plethora of types of food, he turned a corner. Since his feeding tube came out, I became one of those people with more opened cans of cat food in the refrigerator than human food. I offered him 5-6 meals a day. He would only eat if the food was warmed. He would only eat if I stood there next to him. He would only eat if I kept the food in the middle of the dish. Yet, with all this, he was only eating enough to sustain, but not to gain. Four weeks after his rescue, he had not gained weight, although it was apparent he felt much better.

At the 4 week mark, he got more enthusiastic about food. Of course, this happened right after I ordered enough cat food in different flavors and types to fill Fort Knox. But, all that food won’t go to waste! I am so relieved he is eating better. He was about 30% underweight with a body condition score of one out of five.  He gained a pound during his fifth week post rescue!

Another breakthrough occurred right before his appetite returned. Crinkle played!! I got out Da Bird one night and his eyes lit up and we had a rousing game that included another cat, Jigsaw. He tired quickly, but it was obvious the old guy had a great time. And, so did I.

At almost the five week mark, I walked into the kitchen in time to see him attempt a jump on the counter. He almost made it. Jumping on the counter is not against the rules at my house. He saw me and panicked. Fear was all over his face. I can only think he was having a flashback as he ran and hid. I went to him and stood a distance away and simply talked to him.  It made me sad to see him so frightened.

Everybody loves a good ending. I don’t know how long Crinkle will be with me. His body suffered a lot of damage with starvation. My goal is to keep him happy and healthy as long as I can. He continues to inspire me with his attitude and graciousness. The other animals have accepted him seamlessly. The wound on his tail is slowly healing. I hope the wounds in his soul from abandonment can also heal.

 

Crinkle, the Cat that Stole My Heart

On a hot summer day in August, Schuylkill Veterinary Hospital got a call from Ruth Steinert Memorial SPCA about a cat laying in a parking lot all day on Route 61 in Pottsville. Good Samaritans brought this pitiful creature to the hospital. A red tabby with a neglected cauliflower ear, he was emaciated, dehydrated, loaded with fleas and ticks, and had maggots on a tail wound. He was miserable.  Plan of action included rehydration, treatment for fleas, ticks, ear mites  and intestinal parasites. He had no identification, no collar with tag or microchip. This poor soul was dying. Every time I checked on him, he would stumble to the front of his kennel with a look of gratitude that I cannot describe. He purred, despite not having the energy to walk.

The next day, he was still alive, but his prognosis was guarded. His soulful eyes captivated my heart. I made my decision at that time. If he died, he was going to die as a loved pet. He was my cat. He started eating and got stronger. I took him home. Still very weak, he adjusted well. The other animals accepted him peacefully. On his introduction to one Labrador, he rubbed his head on the dog’s muzzle and she in turn flipped over, belly up, in deference to her new friend, the pathetic red cat. As a few days passed, his appetite did not improve, but he did enjoy sleeping in the crook of my arm every night. I returned him to the hospital for more blood work, a dental procedure and the placement of a feeding tube.

On returning home he was definitely getting more nutrition via the tube, but developed pneumonia. One night, I was awake checking him regularly to see if he was alive. I just really wanted him to know he was loved if he took that trip to kitty heaven.  He rallied and with continued medication and feeding tube adjustments, slowly improved. During this convalescence, I frequently consulted other veterinarians, as I wanted to be sure I was doing what was best for him. My friend and colleague, Dr Paul Kerns, patiently listened to me as I described the latest issues and treatment for Crinkle in regular phone calls.

Why did this cat get under my skin?? The truth is, I don’t know. I see cats every day. I have the opportunity to adopt needy cats regularly. I don’t NEED another cat. I don’t remember when I last had a single digit cat population. My kind of cat has long hair, and is either tricolor or an unusual color. Crinkle is a short haired red tabby, as regular looking as they come, except for the beat up appearance.  Something about his manner and the way he looked at me made me feel like Spiderman had just reeled me in with a well placed strand of webbing. At this writing, Crinkle is stable, but not yet thriving. He is not a young cat. My hopes are that he will live out his days in comfort, not knowing hunger, or pain, or loneliness, here at Canterbury Tails.

Stress of Breeding

Fancy and puppies

Most people know I am active in dog sports. Some know I also breed an occasional litter. Two days ago, my Labrador Fancy went into labor with her second litter. Last year she had a litter of 6 that resulted in a Cesarean section at delivery, with one dead puppy. This year, expecting a litter of four, after much thought, I allowed her to try a natural delivery. As they say, hindsight is 20/20. She ended up in an emergency C -section, losing the stuck puppy . I wish I could do it over again. I would have planned the C-section and all puppies would have been fine and I would have spared my dog a nonproductive labor.

 

It’s been a tiring forty-eight hours. You see, after a litter is born, whether naturally or by C-section, it is the responsibility of the pet owner to watch the litter carefully. At about 3 am on the first night, Fancy laid on two of her puppies; if I hadn’t been observant, those puppies would have perished. Not all moms are accepting of their puppies. Sometimes litters must have constant chaperoning for days or weeks to prevent bitches from injuring or even killing the puppies. Some mothers completely reject the puppies. In these cases, owners must step in with round the clock feedings along with stimulating the pups to urinate and defecate. Either way, owners are responsible for time consuming care that includes cleaning, feeding properly, socializing, and initial training of living beings.

 

How and why did I make the decision to breed this litter? I started with a great dog. Not just an easy pet to live with, or just a titled show dog. Fancy is a healthy dog with no history of allergies or other illness. She has a temperament that is suitable for the breed. To add icing on the cake, she is a grand champion with  Rally obedience titles. What does this mean? It means she is an outstanding example of the breed in the way she looks. It means her structure is sound. Good structure means fewer problems as dogs get older. Compare this to bow legged people…….they are sure to have arthritis in their knees as they get older. A dog that is put together properly will more likely stay injury and pain free. In addition, the stability of the temperament required to be on the road to become a champion is awe inspiring. Not every dog can do it. I did not have an appreciation for this until I showed dogs. The other titles ( RN and RA) prove she is trainable and can perform under pressure, again, her temperament excelling.

 

So, what did I do to be sure she was worthy of producing puppies? Fancy was tested for diseases common to the breed. Some of the tests are DNA tests, others are screening tests to rule out the presence of the disease in her. Fancy had radiographs of her hips and elbows submitted to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals for evaluation for hip and elbow disease. She had an ultrasound done of her heart to be sure that organ is clear of disease. She has her eyes checked every year by a specialist to be sure there are no problems cropping up. These results are registered with the Canine Eye Registry Foundation. Fancy has also been genetically tested for Exercised Induced Collapse, Central Nuclear Myopathy, and Progressive Retinal Atrophy. I am determined to do the best I can to minimize the possibility of disease in these puppies.

 

The champion male I picked to breed Fancy with has an excellent health record, all appropriate testing done, and has a history of producing quality, healthy puppies in the past. It’s a gamble no matter what; there are no guarantees. As these puppies are entering their 12-14 year life span, I want to give them the best chance possible. The first 16 days of life the puppies have daily neurologic stimulation developed by the army to increase adaptability, trainability and intelligence in military dogs. Carefully planned socialization at appropriate stages are in store for them. Exposure to various surfaces, sounds, and intellectual challenges are an important part of their early development. My puppies will have tunnels, mazes, toys, a teeter totter, and more to help their minds and bodies develop.

The day will come when two of these puppies will go to families that have been carefully screened and prepared for him/her. My hope is that each puppy will bring a lifetime of joy to that family. In return, that family will be responsible pet owners, feeding, exercising, training, providing medical care, and, most of all, love, to the one pound ball of chocolate fur that I hold now. One of these puppies will stay here with me, a part of the future of Canterbury Tails Labradors.

 

Sugar, The Cat With The Incredible Will

Sugar and friend

After classes one day during veterinary school, I went to a friend’s house and sat on the couch to visit. Along came a black cat, well, sort of. She was mostly shaved with suture lines like zippers all over her body.  Her long, black hair on her head was her only coat. She was purring like crazy and I welcomed the affection.  It turned out she had been presented to the emergency clinic in Atlanta where my friend worked. She was a stray injured in the fan belt of a car. She survived to be adopted by my friend and joined her research colony of cats used in her PhD program and running through the house.  I was smitten by her good nature and the following fall I adopted her and took her home with me.

Her name was Sugar. She earned the name since she really was so sweet. Sugar was the ultimate lap cat. As soon as a lap formed, she was in it. She was also the ultimate hunter, keeping the country house and yard cleared of vermin. She was much admired by the loggers that worked nearby. I even had an offer to buy her as she was unusual for that area due to her long hair in addition to being such a good hunter.

She was also a good traveler. She made long trips in the car regularly, staying at strange places. She made several moves with me as well. When I started my job as a veterinarian in practice, she lived over the office with me, sharing space with a veterinary technician. To this day, I remember the awful shrieking that was my roommate’s bird. I knew immediately, Sugar had gotten it. I ran to find her outside the cage with feathers all around her mouth. The bird lived, thank goodness.

After I moved to my first real house, Sugar enjoyed being settled in. I came home one day to find her ill, running a high fever. I tested her for Feline Leukemia as in those days there was no vaccine, the testing had been primitive and she was, after all, from a risk colony. My worst fears were confirmed. Sugar had the dreaded cat disease with little options at that time.

Amazingly, Sugar lived 6 ½ years past her diagnosis. She was a spoiled rotten house cat as I knew that tomorrow could be her last day. She dealt with chronic urinary tract disease that included a bladder stone, colitis, and diabetes. Throughout all this, Sugar never missed a meal and had an iron will to survive. She had something rarely seen…truly a will to live against all odds. Finally, she had a stroke. She could only move her right paw. But she used that paw to pull herself around on the rug. I fed her by holding her head up; her appetite never faltered. My friends were horrified that I did not immediately euthanize her. But, she had that will. She improved daily over the next several weeks. Her gait was not graceful, but got her where she needed to go. Three months later, I came home from work to find she had passed on her own. A gift she gave to me. She had been doing very well.

When I think of Sugar, I think of her affection, easy going acceptance of other pets and people, and most of all, that will to live. If only I could bottle her strength to share with other pets.

 

My First Labrador

When in veterinary school, I wanted a dog. I knew I wanted a Labrador or a Golden Retriever. Another veterinary student, a year ahead of me, turned out to be active in showing and breeding Labradors.  She had at her kennel a dog brought in to breed from a large breeder in Virginia. This dog was returned from a pet home. She was the product of Labradors imported from England.  She was described to me as an out of control 16 month old yellow female. I could have her at no charge as long as I was willing to allow the current owner to breed her once. I took Tiger home with me. It was the start of 15 years of almost constant companionship.

Tiger was not housebroken, but quickly learned. She was not leash trained, but was a wonderful student. Quickly, she learned to sit and down on command. We took long walks daily and sometimes  she  trotted along as I rode my bike. We connected. I was smitten with the breed and the dog.

Tiger loved a tennis ball. Having been raised in a kennel, she did not understand other toys. She would carry a ball in her mouth constantly. People would often ask if she had an oral tumor; I’d laugh and explain that, no, that was her ball. One time on a walk around a pond she took her ball in the water and let it go for a moment. Apparently, it had a hole in it as it sank. She spent what seemed like forever looking for it. Sadly, we went home without it. The next time we took a walk around that pond, she went in at the same spot, determined to find her beloved toy. She never did find that one, but there were others to take its place!

Tiger was obsessed with food, as many Labs are. She was a constant source of amusement in her search for anything edible, or close to it. When visiting my family, she would “help” my father in his garden by picking tomatoes. The problem came when she ate them all. She ate apples off the tree, potatoes, corn, whatever she could get her mouth on before she was discovered.

Springfield’s Heath was her registered name. Her pedigree was an enviable tree of champions. But more important, she was a sweet, passive dog that was devoted to me. She loved everyone, especially those bearing food.  She was my practice dog in veterinary school. You know all vet students use their own pets for palpation practice as well anything else that can be done without harm. She traveled everywhere with me, handled several household moves, always sleeping in her bed near me.

I took my first formal dog obedience classes with Tiger. She was a star. But, I always find myself wishing I knew then what I know now. Training has progressed so much in 30 years. Reward based training is so effective and elevates the bond with a dog. The classes we went to at that time were correction based. That sweet dog got a jerk on her collar for every perceived mistake. I look back on that with so much regret. If I had used the current methods of today, Tiger would have been so happy to perform, instead, she completed her commands dutifully, without joy.

Tiger did as most good dogs do, she grew old. She was old for a long time, living to 16 1/2 years of age. I found myself getting angry at her for aging. How could my best friend do this to me? On our last move to my current house, I found she could not handle the steps to the bedroom to sleep in her bed next to mine. I initially carried her up and down the steps, but found

At age 16

that hard on both of us. We settled on a nice bed in the den for her. It was harder on me than on her to separate. She lived 2 more years after the move. Her mobility became more difficult with everyday. I let her go on the day after Christmas 1994.

Thank you, Tiger, for your love, and your devotion,  just being there during the hard times. The worst times of my life were spent with you at my side, never judging me. I couldn’t say your name without crying for a year after you were gone. I remember you now and think of one word. Love.

 

 

Tiger prior to 5-1983

In her younger days

 

 

A Tribute to Dazzle

 

 

I woke up today to find Dazzle had passed away in her sleep. She was a good dog from start to finish. At the end, she spared me the slow deterioration that many pet owners have to bear, only to have to make the decision to euthanize in order to spare their pet’s suffering. At the beginning, she was an easy puppy, easy to house train, a joy to socialize and quick to learn new skills. I couldn’t have asked for a better dog.  Indeed, Champion Hemlock’s Diamond Dazzler CDX RN WC was simply the best anyone could ask for.

I picked Dazzle out of a litter with five yellow girls. She was the granddaughter of my first show dog, Ruby. A darling puppy, she was always happy as well as mellow. She possessed a trait that is very difficult to come by in a competition dog. She was laid back and easy to live with, loved a good belly rub, but ask her to work and a switch turned on and she was ready to go in obedience or the field. She was an extraordinary jumper and loved it, doing multiple hurdles with ease. She loved to train.

Dazzle was known to all as the dog with the tremendous appetite. No food was safe around her. While staying at a friend’s house one time, she broke in to the pantry and ate a bag of Splenda. Another time she stole a can of tomatoes packed with hot chilies and sucked it dry. The most memorable event was when she stole the birthday cake a friend had given me, chocolate cake with peanut butter icing. She had a show one day, won the points toward her championship , came home and stole the cake overnight ( whole thing) and greeted me in the am with a belly like a barrel, asking for breakfast. I took her to a show that day, huge belly and all. The judge congratulated me on the upcoming litter. Of course, I didn’t tell him the truth. A friend outside the ring commented it was a litter of cupcakes! The amazing thing about Dazzle’s culinary escapades was that she NEVER got sick!

Dazzle was a healthy dog her entire life. My dogs generally are. I tend to take it for granted. She whelped three litters with no problem  after she completed her championship at the age of five. The first litter consisted of one stillborn puppy. Her hormones were raging and since she had no live puppies to take care of, she chose a small latex pink pig to mother, carrying it with her and caring for it for ten days. When she did have a litter of healthy puppies, she was a wonderful mother. I always thought she loved the process as she could eat so much more as a mom!

After Dazzle retired from the show ring and motherhood, she starred in a commercial. At 11 years old, she was a trooper, being filmed walking up a hill for what seemed like 500 times on

a scorching hot day. She liked the lunch break, when the crew and actors got their catered lunches and would rest them on the ground while gabbing. One of the two things Dazzle always wanted in life was to be really fat. She never was allowed that luxury.

The other thing Dazzle never got in life that she wanted  was to be an only dog. Dazzle got along well with all dogs, but never seemed to be devoted to her house buddies. Her favorite dog game was chase, as she was a fast dog, but she never liked the wrestle games. She was a great friend to the cats, who cuddled with her and used her as a kneading pillow. A gentle dog, a sweet dog , a good dog. Thank you, Dazzle.