|For those who know the bonding of human and cat|
Hardy Menagh 7/31/14
Freehold, New York
I have always believed that cats and humans belong in each other's company. If your relationship with your cat isn't symbiotic, you're doing it wrong.
In late June of 2014, the stray gray and white, polydactyl cat I have been calling "Molly" had been calling our back pole barn/garage home. After our initial encounter, Molly would greet me every morning and most times I saw her, by excitedly running to me. Occasionally, she would quickly look up and flash me an 'I love you' look, with half closed eyes. It was the best of these looks I've ever seen, flawlessly executed with totally devastating effect. At night she cried plaintively outside our bedroom window, wanting to come in. My wife, knowing me as she does, said, "Don't you dare".
Our 7 cats kept a watchful eye on her when they were out during the day, with the exception of Chester, our very large, lovable, chronically happy, three legged tabby. He ignored her in a completely accepting way. In turn, she seemed unconcerned about him. Emma, a small older tabby who appreciates Chester's company, made her dislike of Molly known by growling. Molly would respond with a quick hiss. It was all purely posturing.
My wife saw that I was becoming attached. I don't think she realized the hopelessness of it. I had already violated the 'Three Don'ts'. I trampled the first 'Don't' by deciding I had to call her something and thought she looked like a "Molly". Feeding her was the next 'Don't' but she never ate much. I found her proudly standing over a freshly killed mouse one day, as if to say, "See, you don't even need to feed me". Finally, ignoring the last of the 'Don'ts', I let her in the house. She enjoyed exploring for a while then seemed satisfied and wanted to go back out.
We had mentioned Molly to our vet during a follow-up exam for Groucho, our large orange tabby who recently had a PPU operation. She gave us a short primer on Hemingway cats which explained Molly's overabundance of toes.
The Shelter Decision
By now the local vets and shelter had the pictures of Molly we sent them. No one had been looking for her. After some very rational discussion, I reluctantly agreed that we should get Molly to a shelter where hopefully, someone with fewer furry obligations would adopt her. I tried to steel myself against the impending heartbreak. Being disabled and having recent sizable vet bills for two of our cats, was helping me to think realistically, which has never been my strong suit. Once again, I had quickly gained the trust of a cat. I felt that I was now betraying that trust.
We picked a Saturday morning for the trip to Animalkind. We knew Molly would be well cared for there and would have the best chance of being reunited with her owner or getting adopted. I let her in the house for what was to be the last time and ushered her into a carrier. She didn't seem to mind the carrier or the car and was quiet for the entire ride to Hudson. This was a new experience for us. Our cats usually react to car rides with anything from persistant complaining to loud screaming, plus the emptying of bowels, bladders and stomachs. It didn't occur to Molly to do any of this.
As expected, the place was literally crawling with cats. The woman in charge, told us about the problematic claw growth that can happen with polydactyl cats. This result of neglect had happened to Molly. Two of her nails had curled back and grown into her pads undoubtedly causing her pain. The woman showed us how to clip these problem nails then verified that Molly had been spayed and administered her shots. The woman asked, "You'll be taking her back home then?" My wife started to explain that we already have 7 cats. The woman interrupted her, "I have 175!" then continued to lay on the guilt. I had to admire the way she did it. I'm sure it was a skill honed by years of repetition. I rubbed my wife's shoulders like a manager trying to bolster a prize fighter but there was no fight in my wife. She had tried to hide it but Molly had gotten to her too.
We left Animalkind a donation and walked to the car with Molly in the carrier. I tried to hide the smile I walked out with.
Animalkind had posted about Molly on their Facebook page and it was shared extensively. Two weeks passed. It began to become evident that Molly's original owner wasn't looking for her. Molly was settling in and getting used to the other cats and they, her. She had commandeered my office chair, requiring me to use another one. She often napped next to me in her chair while I worked at the computer in a less comfortable seat.
As if I needed more convincing that Molly was special, while pulling and tossing weeds one day, I discovered that she had a talent for catching things. She enjoyed catching tossed clover blossoms between both of her front catcher's-mitt-paws then briefly holding one in her mouth while she waited for another to be tossed.
"If you would know a man, observe how he treats a cat"
Robert A. Heinlein
A trip to our vet revealed a possible reason why no one had claimed her. Molly had a heart murmur. The resultant blood test indicated heart disease. Maybe her owner knew this, didn't want the responsibility of caring for her and dropped her off in an out-of-the-way place. Perhaps he had spotted some of our cats from the road or maybe she found us all by herself after a long walk. We'll likely never know.
Molly's next trip was to the heart specialist in Latham. There she got an ultrasound and ECG plus more blood tests and some medicine. We were entering into some growing credit card debt with her but she was our responsibility now and we were in it for the duration.
The Heart of the Problem
Molly's condition is called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM). It may be due to a genetic mutation, not the same as the one that causes extra toes.
The walls in one of the chambers of Molly's heart have thickened. This has reduced the volume of the chamber, forcing the valve out of alignment, causing it to open against the chamber wall and not function correctly. Scar tissue has formed where the valve impacts the wall. This condition makes her heart work too hard and beat too quickly. The medication prescribed for her will slow her heart rate and help prevent further thickening of her heart wall. It may also quiet the murmur a little. In some cases, a side effect can make a cat feel lethargic and we will need to watch for this.
Cats with heart disease can live a long time. There are better medicines now than were available 10 years ago.
Molly has the home she chose for herself and will have it as long as she needs it.
Unless you're very old and your cat is young, you are likely to outlive your cat regardless of its condition. The point is to make the best of your time together however long that is and cherish the bond you share. There's no point in worrying about the heartbreak. It will come, be difficult, then get easier but you will always have the happy memories.
For part of the time I wrote this, Molly lay on the floor beside me with her tail draped over my bare foot, the little seductress. She doesn't know when to quit. My promise to her is that I won't ever quit caring. It's the same promise I've made to all of the dozens of cats who have shared, and those who continue to share their lives with us.
Molly and our other cats receive the best care available
from the doctors and staff at the Delmar Animal Hospital.
Hardy's Back Room
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