Nancyeclark's Blog


Bib

Bib

This is Bib…named for the Michelin man as his tummy was always so big as a baby. Bib was special…his eyes, his funny little nose, his one white stocking-and his funny personality. Bib developed breathing problems from a growth behind his soft palate and when he began to have real problems getting enough air, we had to make a decision to end his struggle. We lost our gorgeous boy the same day we lost our Youko…and I just want to say that he was the best boy…the sweetest boy and my heart aches with the loss. Bibby and Youko were a wonderful part of my life – I will miss them always.



Youko

Youko

This is my little Youko; my odd little angel. Only survivor of her litter…she struggled with health issues throughout her short life. We lost her last month, and I haven’t been able to talk about it until now. Lovely and fragile…she gave me so much and taught me so much – I will miss her forever.



Musing on moggies

Fostering cats is one of the most rewarding, wonderful, loving and heartbreaking things you can do with your time, love and effort.

You take in a Mum cat, perhaps, about to give birth. Sometimes you are lucky and get a few days to get to know each other and establish a bond…sometimes she goes into labour in the carrier on the way home and the babies appear before you have even been introduced!!

Occasionally, Mum has already had her babies and you take them home with you when they are a day or two old or somewhere in that newborn to 12 week old area.

And then there are the orphan kittens, singles or litters, that need to be bottle fed…or if they are old enough, introduced to soft solid food. A very messy business!

No matter how they arrive…they are your responsibility and yours to love and care for. They demand attention…warmth…food…fresh water…litter & litter training…playtime…cuddles & snuggle-time…manners…socialization…all the things they need to be wonderful adoptable kittens and cats…because Mum will need a home too, when the babies are old enough. There will be visits to the vet, shots, de-worming…hopefully no viruses, parasites or other problems. They will all need to learn to use scratching posts and have their claws clipped. They will turn out to be the kind of cat they are, depending on their personality, but you do have some influence on their manners.

Fostering is a commitment that should not be taken lightly, because the goal is to find homes, forever homes for everybody…so we have to do our level best to keep them healthy, happy, well mannered and sociable. And we have to be able to let them go at the end of their foster time! Time and love are the big things in fostering. Time is the only one that is hard to find sometimes…the love comes when you look into their faces and you turn to mush. One of my very favourite things is a purring, contented Mum nursing her purring, contented babies…the next best thing is a tiny body on my lap, latched onto a nipple or syringe and getting that wonderful ear waggle going that means they are getting the nourishment they need. And kitten kisses, don’t forget kitten kisses…soft kisses and soft paws touching your nose…then kittens on a tear around the room or the house…full of life and fun and mischief. So really there are lots of favourite things about kittens.

I work hard at fostering…because I have to also make sure my own kitties do not suffer any loss of attention when there are kittens demanding playtime and snuggles. Luckily I have a wonderful family, and a wonderful family of cats who are amazingly patient at having their tails played with, their food stolen and their naps disrupted by kittens running over them and into them. They also understand when I disappear before their breakfast is put out, to feed the newest ones who get theirs first.

Upstairs in my studio I had a foster family…Phoebe and her 3 babies…Yogi, Archie and Zoe. Oops! Sorry…4 babies! The family increased to 4, because an orphan kitten around the same age as Phoebe’s family was brought in and we carried her home to see if Phoebe would take her on. I wrapped the new one in a towel that had just been replaced in the babies bin, so it smelled nicely like them…gave her a hot water bottle wrapped in towels for 15 minutes to warm her up and make her feel hungry…then introduced her to Phoebe. Calleigh, as she became, let out a tiny cry of hunger and Phoebe’s head whipped upright…she stared hard for about 2 seconds…leaned over…sniffed deeply, then licked Calleigh from stem to stern and scooped her in towards her tummy and the other babies. In the space of about 10 seconds, Calleigh had a new family and Phoebe had a new daughter! The ability of cats to accept a kitten not their own is a truly loving and wonderful thing. Not all will do it…but many will gladly take on an extra body or more.

Calleigh got some supplemental feeding…because even with Phoebe giving her extra alone time nursing…the other kittens were just that little bit older and bigger so that Calleigh got knocked off her nipple sometimes…she took in about an extra two tablespoons a day…spread out over several feedings. Soon she was as fat and roly-poly as the others. She was such a feisty little thing…such an odd face and darling personality.

Calleigh day 1…making sure she gets a meal. Calleigh is the little white kitten.

From fostering and from working with feral or community cats, I have learned that mum cats are amazing creatures. In the colony I have been working with most recently, the mum cats share nursing duties and care of the kittens…they share hunting responsibilities and discipline of the kittens too. When, unfortunately, one of the young mum cats disappeared forever (and I wish we knew what had happened) the other 2 mum cats took over her babies and raised them. Having been a step-mum, I know how precious someone else’s babies are and how wonderful it is to be part of their life…but a lot of human blended families don’t work that cooperatively. Cats seem to see it differently. At least this group of cats. They are amazing animals…wild and nervous of humans…but the little ones, caught between 8 weeks and 6 months of age…have socialized beautifully. We believe they simply have the “friendly gene”…as even though some took a long time to trust…they have all become lovely cats. The adults in the colony have been spayed and neutered…the 2 new males that have wandered in looking for food (so skinny we believe they are strays) are on the list to neuter very shortly.

Fostering encompasses so many things and so many situations…babies…mums and babies…socializing community cats (feral cats)…caring for sick or injured cats…it really runs the gamut. It breaks my heart every time I have to adopt one out…but it is also pure joy to know they have a home and family to love them. I have been very lucky that many of the adopters have kept in touch…just to send a picture or two of the cats/babies in their new homes being loved and being happy. What could be better than that?



THE ‘”OO” FACTOR

I am sure we have all heard of the  “aww” factor, right? The cuteness, the sweetness that makes you go “aww!!! ”. The warm fuzzies. That is what everyone thinks of when I tell them I am fostering kittens…particularly baby kittens…orphans of a day old, or about a week old, or two weeks old…everyone  says ”aww”.  Everyone who has never done it that is.

4. hungry rodney

The reality about tiny baby kittens is the “oo” factor. As in poop, poop, poop and more poop.

Orphan kittens are the cutest things on the face of the planet. They are also one of the hardest things to feed, keep warm and keep alive. And then there’s the poop.

Orphans, depending on their age, need feeding every 2 hours at the start. They will take to a bottle or not. They will suck or not. They might like syringe feeding. Or not. Sometimes a dropper. Or not. It is all trial & error and a kitten happily sucking one minute will decide not to the next. And then there is the poop.

Orphan kittens need to be kept warm and dry. But not too warm. Hot water bottles need to be refreshed regularly, and heating pads need to be under lots of towels or blankies, so that there are no hot spots…and they need to be able to get away from the warmth if they need to…so there has to be part of their space that is cooler. Their blankets, or towels, or bedding needs to be checked often to be sure they are dry and just the right temperature. And then there is the poop.

Orphan kittens need to be weighed. Need to have a set amount of formula. No over feeding or under feeding. Underfeeding leads to yelling, restless babies. Overfeeding can cause diarrhea and other problems. They need to be burped after feeding. And cuddled. They need skin time and bonding and warmth and lots of love. And they need to poop.

Orphan kittens need to have their little bodies stimulated to pee and poop. Their mum would be doing it for them…so you have to take her place, with cotton pad, ball or washcloth instead of tongue…but the job is the same…to gently encourage them to produce pee and a least a poop a day or so. Never rub…you can irritate their fragile bits. Jiggling works a treat. And be sure to clean them afterwards…so they don’t get scald and so they smell good. A kitten who has a mum is kept immaculate…and we foster parents should keep them that way too. Cats and kittens like to be clean. Bathing is sometimes necessary. Not a lot of fun for either of you…but necessary.

And then there’s the poop. Regular poop should be brown and kind of jam-like….and if you are lucky…that is all you get. However, sometimes you get weird colours and textures and blood and mucus and other horrible things because there are so many things that can cause poop problems. Overfeeding. Formula too rich. Intestinal parasites: roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms or the protozoans; coccidia & giardia.Viral or bacterial infections: there are many, but two of the scariest are FIP & distemper. Allergies. Inflammatory bowel disease. Feline leukemia. Antibiotics. Toxins. Cancer. Diabetes. Some can be ruled out or in fairly easily…but sometimes you just don’t now and it becomes trial and error to fix the problem. Kittens, due to their immature immune systems are wide open to almost anything, sometimes inherited from their mother, sometimes not.

When all is normal in the poop department, thank your lucky stars. Because it so often isn’t normal. Very often very messy and very smelly. And you have to keep the babies clean…it is vital, because they can get scald, they do not smell good and because they cuddle and sometimes lick and suck on each other…you have to not let them keep re-infecting themselves. Besides, it is harder to snuggle, kiss and love a sticky, smelly baby.

When you are raising baby kittens…you have to keep them clean, dry, warm but not too warm, hydrated and nourished. All of these can be huge challenges at times. And the younger the baby is…the harder it is to even keep them alive, much less thriving.

The tiniest, the youngest will not have had enough or any of their mum’s colostrum. They often do not suck well. And if kittens do develop poop issues…keeping them hydrated is difficult…they lose fluid so quickly.

This is not intended as a “go to” instruction manual for babies. It is just my observations of some of the things you might face when trying to hand raise kittens. And in my estimation, it is the “oo” factor which causes the most puzzlement, headaches, grief and heartache.

Sometimes everything goes swimmingly…you heave a sigh of relief when they get to about 16 weeks old and they get spay/neutered and go on to their new lives. Hopefully long and happy ones. Sometimes it goes only partly bad. You spend all your time trying to figure out the poop problems and trying to keep them tidy. Sometimes you lose a baby (or more)…cry a lot, work harder (as if that were possible) on those that remain, cry some more and rejoice when they get over it and grow and thrive. Sometimes they are the litter that makes you want never to do this again…to believe you cannot cry any more tears…that you are the worst foster mum ever…that  god does not exist or these things would not happen to innocents like this…that vets are useless…that you will never recover from the grief…and that no one will ever ask you to do this again, because you have just killed a litter of kittens. Because if all hell breaks loose, and kittens die…you will blame yourself, even if it is in no way your fault. Sometimes you will know why it happened…and sometimes you do not get any answers…it just happens despite your fervent prayers and diligence and love and medicine and whatever else you tried to save them…shelter visits, CPR, syringe feeding, tube feeding, antibiotics,anti-virals, sub-Q fluids, hot water bottles, emergency vet visits, all the supportive care in the world….even making bargains with the devil…sometimes there is not a damn thing you can do. Kittens die sometimes.

But you swallow hard and find the resolve to do it again…and again…because when all goes well, there is incredible joy and satisfaction in seeing these wee things nurse and snuggle and grow and thrive. There is so much joy in watching their personalities blossom. I cannot tell you how deeply it affects me to have the whole litter sitting in my lap, looking at me with love, tapping my face with their soft little paws and purring to beat the band. My heart sings! And there is seeing them spayed or neutered and head off into their new lives with their forever families. It is supremely satisfying to know they would not have had that outcome if it were not for you. Fostering kittens is about hard work, long hours, a weird fascination with poop, fun, love, joy, sadness, silliness, heartache, awe and wonder and lots and lots of smiles and laughter. It really is all about the “oo” factor…but when it works…it is also about the “aww” factor.



ANIMAL VOICES-ARTICLE ON FOSTERING CATS FOR THE OSPCA

The Following is an article I wrote for the OSPCA Magazine ‘Animals’ Voice” – part of which appeared in the most recent edition.

This is the full article…

Fostering: A Win, Win, Win Situation

By Nancy E. Clark

Dedicated to Fingal, Finlay, Fiona, Darla, Eden, Lilith, Libby, Cain, Abel, Bib, Bailey, Quince, Baldric, Garnet, Domino, Bramble, Zorra, Echo, Julia, Mighty Mouse, Thor, Keiko, Youko, Jet, Smokey, Addy, Teddy, Sally, Juliet, Spook, Robin, and all the fosters who have allowed me to share a small part of their lives.

I began fostering cats for the Lennox & Addington OSPCA in 2008, because I love animals, cats in particular, and I wanted to help them and my local shelter; I had time and love to give, but not a lot of money. I am also lucky enough to have a husband who is patient and kind and helpful; and a room or two I can close off to isolate the newcomers for the duration of their stay, or just until it is a good time to introduce them to the general population. We have a large family of cats of our own…spayed, neutered and up to date on all their shots. All but 3 (rescues) are shelter cats, adopted over many years and ranging in age from 1 to 12. I taught my children to be wary of strangers, but my cats have had to learn to be open and accepting of strangers and patient with kittens. After I began fostering, I realized that not only is it an important (and mostly unrecognized) part of saving animals…but the wonder of birth, the delight & pride in a blossoming personality, the amusement afforded by cats of all shapes and sizes and the downright hilarity of their antics at times…makes the job so satisfying I may never stop.

Usually it is pregnant mums who arrive at our house in Selby…a few hours, days or weeks before they deliver or just after the babies are born. Sometimes it is right smack dab in the middle of delivery, as in the case of Eden, who went into labour in the carrier on the way home and had her first kitten an hour and a half later. Quite the introduction!

The expectant/new mums are given a room which is as comfortable and clean as I can make it…with various ‘nesting’ boxes and bins so they can choose a comfortable place to have/keep their babies. The closet is the most popular spot, with a towel-lined plastic bin inside and a curtain over the opening. There is clean water and food nearby and a fresh litter box. When given the time (prior to birth), I spend time with the mums…earning their trust and building a bond that will allow me to keep track of their health and that of their litter…and to help mum be calm and happy and eat well for the babies and to begin building on her adoptability for the future.

Occasionally it is a feral/semi feral or timid cat or kitten we have to work with and socialize…lots of patience, baby food and play required, but it’s one of the best feelings in the world when they come out of hiding and let you stroke them and eventually encourage their personalities to blossom. It’s the same feeling I had when my step-daughter trustingly took my hand the first time.

Fostering is defined as “to promote the growth of, to help develop, to afford, receive or share nourishment; the foster person stands in the relation of parent, etc., as regards sustenance and nurture, but not by tie of blood.” (or species in this respect)

Nourishment is not enough, however…but nurture comes close. Webster’s Dictionary includes this: To Nurture, Nourish, Cherish. Nourish denotes to supply with food, or cause to grow; as, to nourish a plant. To nurture is to train up with a fostering care, like that of a mother; as, to nurture into strength; to nurture in sound principles. To cherish is to hold and treat as dear; as, to cherish hopes or affections. [1913 Webster]

I really like that definition…nurture, nourish, cherish. That’s the foundation of why and how I foster. To provide a warm, safe home, proper nutrition, clean litter boxes, exercise, playtime and training. To schedule (and show up for) shots and de-worming and surgeries, to provide supportive care to the ill, to ask for vet care if needed, to apply or give medicines, to be the parent the animal deserves. To work with the staff at the shelter to keep everyone as healthy as possible. But it is so much more than that, it is also the cherishing…to hold dear, love, snuggle, be endlessly patient with, to fight for them like a mother, but accept the inevitable if it comes, to grieve for them when they leave, to give them all you can to give them a fighting chance at a long, happy, contented life…because it may break your heart many times over, but fostering gives you transports of joy, much love, and satisfaction on a massive scale…healing the heartbreak and drying your tears.

It is the cherishing that is both the easiest and the hardest part of the job…and probably the most misunderstood part…the animals are both yours and not yours…and that can cause the odd moment of friction between the staff and me.

Fostering cats and kittens is a marvellous and wonderful experience, full of laughter and smiles. Having babies in the house is a constant wonder…touching, hysterically funny at times and always new…because even if they are not people…kittens and cats are individuals…each completely unique. Watching them grow from tiny eating/sleeping machines into lively, happy and distinctive personalities is a privilege and a pleasure. Normally, all you have to do is the basics of nourish, nurture and cherish. You bring them up; play with them, teach them manners (at least some), live with a chronically messy house because kittens will chase and play and leave your towels on the floor, your every nook and cranny explored and their toys on the stairs. Kittens, until taught what not to do, will get into all that they can find in hopes it is play-able…so kitten proofing starts at floor level and gets steadily higher as they grow. All too soon, they have their first shots etc. and then their surgeries, they go up for adoption and you send them off to their new people with lots of tears and a huge smile.

That, by the way, is my favourite part of fostering, waving goodbye as my “children” head off into their new life…that and cuddling babies of course.

But occasionally things go very wrong. Julia, for example, had 4 babies, all extremely sick from day 2 on. We had to euthanize Mighty Mouse and Thor within days…Keiko survived to 6 weeks and then began to suffer breathing problems and we lost her too. Youko survived against all the odds and is doing well at 9 months…adopted out and happy. Then there are all the other problems that can crop up…parasites, viruses like Calici, Herpes and Corona: the problem often lies with the mum, having no idea of her exposures or carrier status, and whether my own cats can spread/catch viruses they may or may not have been exposed to years ago; as careful as you are with hand washing, disinfection and isolation…things happen. I find it hard to give up even when I know in my heart there is no hope. Henny Venus, the Shelter’s Manager and the staff have been wonderful in this respect, helping me learn to recognize the point at which to say…enough. To always recognize that these creatures are my responsibility, yes, and that I love them, yes, but they are OSPCA cats, and I must respect their experience and decision making. I think that is the hardest part of fostering…remembering always that these animals are mine in every sense of the word, except in actual fact. When you love them, it feels that they are only yours. And you have to love them to let them flower and flourish. Henny has always been kind to me in this respect, simply pointing out to me the things I know in my heart to be true, and allowing me to feel involved.

Fostering can be fun and easy and rewarding. It can be painful and hard but still rewarding. It is the luck of the draw. We have had both kinds…with the good ones vastly outnumbering the tough ones. Good or bad, happy or sad, it is a job worth doing…for them and for me.

Working with Henny and Heather and Rebecca, Haili, Jackie and Meghan and Bernice (before she retired) and the volunteers has been, overall, a wonderful experience. They are skilled and kind and supportive. They are also extremely patient with me, as I tend to be a pain in the butt kind of foster parent…perhaps over protective and sometimes unsure of my own knowledge, ability and experience. I have learned so much from them and enjoy working with them always.

There are so many good things about fostering. It brings me volumes of love and affection, it allows me to help animals get their chance at a good life, it has taught me lessons in care, in training, in teamwork, in gratitude, in life, love and letting go. I have learned discipline and sacrifice and not to mind cat hair everywhere and that kittens can be very, very bad…cute but bad. I have learned to respect and admire the people at the OSPCA and the often unrecognized difficult job they do for all the animals our society abandons, abuses, surrenders and neglects.

There are questions about fostering that may make you reluctant to start. Is it time consuming? Sometimes. Does it require some financial input? Yes, it can…with toys and litter and food…although many shelters provide food, and they all look after the medical stuff. Is it wrong to take in or raise an animal, bond with it, love it, and then see it adopted out into a stranger’s home? Isn’t that abandonment?

Well, yes it is…BUT…unless you plan on keeping every single foster animal…which would be impossible…being fostered can give the cat or kitten a much better chance at a wonderful forever home: a stray, a timid animal, an injured one or the new lives, the kittens, get to learn that people are gentle & kind, that cuddling and playing are encouraged, that food will never be in short supply, that there are soft, warm places to nap when you are tired. The socialization they receive makes them happier and that makes them much more adoptable. The whole idea behind sheltering and fostering is to find these animals homes…good homes for the rest of their lives. Adopting them out does provide some stress and distress for these animals…but ultimately it is the best ending for them, and they will soon learn to love & trust their new family…if we have done our job and taught them that people are good companions. We can help to make the match between animal and home the right one….so there should be fewer problems and fewer returns.

Fostering takes animals out of the shelter and the stresses inherent in that environment and gives them a happy home to grow up in or live and learn in, while they wait for the right person or family to come along and fall in love with them. Foster parents can learn so much about an animal’s personality and behaviour that they can help potential adopters decide if the adoptive animal is going to be a good match…because even using wonderful programs like SAFER or the OSPCA’s Feline-ality, it cannot tell you as much about them, because animals do not behave like themselves in shelters as much as they do in a home environment.

If you like or love animals…cats, dogs…whatever…if you have some space, time and love…if you like the idea of helping unwanted ones find homes…if you would like to foster an animal…please contact your local OSPCA branch or affiliate…your local shelter, rescue or humane society. You will fill out some forms and answer some questions, and they may come and take a look at your accommodations. Fostering can give you an idea of the kind of pet you want, if you do not currently have one, and it is temporary…not a life-long commitment (at first). Fostering is a wonderful way to help many animals instead of just one or two. You will change your life and that of the animals in your care for the better, and I am sure you will never regret your decision to open up your home—and your heart.



Chasing Tails

 

It twitches…he watches with huge eyes…tensed, waiting to pounce. It stops, holds still for a moment then very slowly starts to sway…back and forth…a white waving flag…he watches, waits for just the right moment…then attacks, grabs it, bites it, kills it. Relaxes and blinks at me. There is satisfaction on his wee face. Then…it moves again…just a small jerk…and the stalking begins again. It goes on for ages…and it never dies…he just tires of the game eventually and his eyes close and he snuggles in for a nap.

As I sit here watching Fingal on my lap chasing his tail and chuckling over his antics…it gets me wondering about body image/body awareness/body schema and something called proprioception…sometimes known as kinesthesia, and also about imagination and play. I watch a kitten with its tail…and it is as if the tail is a separate entity…not under their control…it seems at times to belong to someone else…to be a creature unknown to them. That is where proprioception begins to wander through my brain.

Darla, Fingal,Finlay & Fiona (57)

As I understand it, there are 3 main types of senses. Exteroceptive senses; the ones that keep us conscious of the outside world and its interaction with us (skin, eyes, ears etc), interoceptive senses; with which we perceive pain in and movement of internal organs, and the proprioceptive senses. Proprioception is a sensory system that provides feedback solely on the status of our bodies. Proprioception is from the Latin proprius, meaning "one’s own" and perception. It is defined as your sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of your own body. It is the sense that lets us know whether our bodies are moving appropriately with the effort we are making, as well as where the various parts of our body are located in relation to each other and to space. Proprioception and kinesthesia are sometimes used interchangeably, but are really quite different. Kinesthesia has more to do with motion and can exist where proprioception is lost.  For example, an inner ear infection could disturb our sense of balance which would erode our proprioceptive sense, but not our kinesthetic sense. You would be able to walk, but only by using sight to maintain your balance; you would be unable to walk with your eyes closed.

Kinesthesia is a key component in muscle memory and hand-eye coordination, and training can improve it. Your ability to swing a golf club or a bat, to catch a ball or dance the macarena or a pas de deux, needs a finely tuned sense of the position of your body and all its joints and limbs in relation to themselves, each other and in space. All this needs to become automatic (through training/repetition) to let us concentrate on the other aspects of performance; seeing/knowing  where other people or objects are, maintaining focus and motivation, expressing the emotion and gaiety of dance. Without the relevant integration of proprioceptive signals, as an artist, I  wouldn’t be able to put paint to paper without watching my hand as it moves the brush; it would be impossible to drive a car because you would not be able to steer or use the foot pedals while looking at the road ahead. You would not even be able to walk without watching where you put your feet.

This gets me thinking about my mother, who had undiagnosed and untreated diabetes for several years, allowing diabetic neuropathy to get a good strong foothold before she began treatment, and so she now has very little feeling in her feet (apart from the pain of the neuropathy), and uses sight to know where her feet are and to enable her to walk. She has trouble walking in the dark. She has also had 4 strokes, leaving her with impaired balance, and uses, again, sight, to help her maintain her equilibrium, also more difficult for her in low light. Her fingers have little sensation left and without looking at what she is doing, she often drops things because she cannot tell where her fingers are. The sense of where our bodies are and how we are moving them and attached to them is a body awareness of very precious, no, priceless value. Neurologist Oliver Sacks is one of the many who have written about loss of this awareness in his patients and in himself too…in the book “A Leg to Stand On”, which raises “profound questions of the physical basis of identity.”

This also gets me thinking about our little cat, Belle, who suffered head, neck and chest trauma at 6 weeks of age and now has neurological deficits, and physical ones, as a result. She has never grown properly, at almost 2 she is the size of a 14 week old…her legs are small and thin and not as well muscled as they should be although her body is quite stocky (partly our fault for letting her get a tad heavy). Belle’s face and head are a mix of the kitten and the adult…her head is quite small…her eyes in relation…large. She has kidney issues and has never matured sexually. She has also been left with tremors which worsen as she relaxes. Watching her recover from her injuries as a kitten was fascinating…she had to learn how to do things that came quite naturally to her littermates…running…playing…jumping. She learned to do most of these things quite well…but you could see her think about them before doing them, and learn from each mistake…unlike the others who just did those things almost without thought or effort. Her muscle tremors make her move differently from other cats, and she must cope with her body twitching even more as she relaxes…I wish I knew more about how she feels about all this. And how she views herself. I know she is not as playful or as physical as other cats…and I believe the trauma affected her not only neurologically in terms of her growth and physical effects, but in her sense of imagination and play. She never became a truly active and playful kitten. She does however grab the biggest toy she can find and carry it around the house yelling and calling and occasionally will play with Cheerios on the floor…still with coordination deficits that tire her quickly. What she thinks of all this I do not know…but she is a growly girl, impatient with others, protective of her space and food and does not like being handled much, although curled in my lap is where you will often find her.

Our older cat,Tucker, has what I and our vet think is Feline Hyperesthesia or Rippling Skin Disorder. His back will start to move and twitch and ripple of its own accord…he will lick hard at it, snap and bite at it and is often chased by it around the house. He is getting crankier with it each day. As I watch him react to it, I wonder what it feels like and I wonder about how he seems to think he can run away from his own body and its movement and discomfort. Luckily, he has not done damage to himself yet, as some cats with the disorder do…we are trying treatment before it gets to that stage.

Proprioception is awareness of one’s body in space, really. Where it is and what it is doing or not doing. The feeling of wholeness and connection in the physical. Sitting here, I do not have to look to know where my toes are, or what is happening within and without my body….and I know how lucky I am. I do wonder what ‘Phantom Limb” must be like…for those amputees who can still feel their missing limbs…and I wonder what it must be like to have all your body…but lose touch with it. There are many different causes of that loss; MS, viral infections, tumours, vitamin deficiencies…I wonder about people with proprioceptive losses and then about animals and their body map and how to tell when their schema is not working properly.

Placing reflexes are used to test human neurological responses and the same goes for animals. There are two frequently used placing reflexes; tests which allow your vet to assess the proprioceptive abilities of cats (and dogs) in particular. The first test is to lift an animal and bring the anterior/dorsal (front/top) surface of a paw up to a table edge. Normally a cat will position its paw onto the surface properly. The second (sometimes called the proprioceptive positioning reflex)  is when the dorsal, or top surface, of the paw is placed onto a surface; a healthy animal will flick it back up to be in the normal position. If it cannot do this it implies that there is either a motor deficit or damage to the sensory pathways for proprioception, or damage to the centres of the brain which would normally integrate this response. “These centres would include the cerebellum, and possibly portions of the cerebrum. The evidence for the involvement of the cerebellum comes, in part, from the fact that cerebellar ataxia can lead to a loss of this particular reflex. The reflex is sometimes referred to as a "response", allowing for possible conscious cerebral influence of the action.” (with apologies to Wiki)

So, what do cats think and feel? Why do they chase their tails? How do they see it and understand it? I understand the fascination with another cat’s tail…but how can you lie there and all of a sudden see your own tail as a separate thing…a toy you can chase in circles or just attack and pounce on when it twitches?

I have looked on the interweb and found some interesting answers to the question of why cats chase their tails…

It is OCD

it is worms in their butts

it can cause epilepsy

it is a form of epilepsy

it is very bad

These are some of the reasons offered for tail chasing in cats.

First…let me say…I am not a vet…I am just voicing an opinion as a cat person of more than 40 years experience.

I don’t believe any of the above are the answer as to why my little 11 week old chases his tail…but they may have validity if you have a cat that chases its tail too much.

If it were an OCD related behaviour in Fingal, surely it would be a more constant, possibly frenetic behaviour, like OCD in people. As I suffer from OCD myself…checking, counting, repetition etc…it doesn’t seem to me an OCD-like behaviour. Worms my cats do not have…and they tend to lick their anal region (butts) as opposed to chasing their tails. I am pretty sure you cannot cause epilepsy that way, but I believe it could be part of a complex partial seizure in a cat. Unless it is damaging to the cat’s tail or to its psyche or it becomes a constant behaviour…it probably is not very bad.

What I believe you have to do is be aware of your cat and its behaviour…and demeanour…is the chasing constant? or just occasional? Is there biting or damage to the tail or skin? If there is, get your cat checked out by a vet. There is something called Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome or Rippling Skin Disorder that can cause a cat to attack itself…tail, skin etc. and pull out fur and damage itself…this is serious and needs a vet. There are other medical reasons for tail chasing…skin issues, tail injuries etc. The important thing is to know your cat’s behaviour…you can often tell if it is a happy chase or the kind caused by something bothering the skin or tail. You have to know that kittens will chase their tails occasionally from the time they are old enough to see and reach their tails and that adult cats will also chase their tails occasionally…if it becomes an obsessive or harmful behaviour or if your cat is showing signs of discomfort or if it is something he/she has never done before…you would need to be concerned.  But a cat’s playful, happy enjoyment and fascination with its tail, and chasing it or playing with it is usually harmless fun and a treasured event in our house, because kittens do seem to grow out of it…as they get older it appears to become less fun for them and we only see a tail chase infrequently.

Cats may see things, including their own bodies, differently from us…but when it comes to imagination…I am not sure they are much different from me or you. Scientists, theorists, psychologists…in fact most of the ists…seem to think that imagination and the ability to pretend is limited to humans and possibly some primates. Ask any cat owner…and the anecdotal evidence of imagination and pretense in cats is overwhelming. I’m not talking just about the pretend hunting they do to hone their skills…but the knocking down of things on the shelf above the bed when deciding it is awake time and breakfast time and pretending they have nothing to do with the falling items or even trying to blame it on another cat. There is the “I meant to do that” pretend, when a “gymnastic” event goes horribly wrong or they somehow embarrass themselves. Pretending not to know their best friend and littermate even though they were just having a lickfest. Not realizing, or pretending not to notice when hiding from you, that the only thing actually hidden is their shoulders and head. Pretending (or hoping) they are a size 2 when truly a 16, because the box they are attempting to sleep in is smaller than their butts. Our poor mum who has never lost her baby weight, indulges in this fantasy quite often.

Cats would seem to have imaginations and they do love to play…as kittens and as adults. Play is an important interaction with your cat…because interactive playing lets your cat practice his hunting skills: seeing and defining the target, practicing the stealth needed to approach, the pounce, and the satisfaction gained from the kill. Whether it is your toes under the covers, a string on a stick or a toy mouse…the hunt is a vital component in play for and with your cat. Playing can help your cat maintain a healthy weight by exercising under-used muscle and brain, and it can be a very positive way for your cat to release lots of negative energy and even aggression.

Interactive play strengthens the bond between you and your cat, and play can help a shy or timid cat gain confidence in itself and in you. A vigorous play session is a good way to ease your cat’s transition into a new home. You can use play to help introduce cats to each other and soften the newness and strangeness between them.

For cats in shelters and rescues…playtime can be vital in maintaining mental health and well-being and helps to socialize them and strengthen the animal/human bond.

So from musing about body schema to musing about crinkle balls and toes under blankets…I have realized that cats, although I cannot talk to them, still have the ability to make me think, and learn. They also make me wish I had my own tail to chase.



Keiko

DSCF0401 She was probably doomed from the start, but she did not seem to care and tried so hard to have a life and grow and become a cat…but we lost her and it broke my heart. Into tiny little pieces…that will, I am sure, eventually fit back together, but there will be a lot of scar tissue.

Keiko was one of four kittens born to Julia, a foster mum from the OSPCA. Tiny and beautiful they were. There was Mighty Mouse, the runt, a little grey and white fighter; Thor, a big black boy who seemed to have odd feet and skeletal issues and then the two sisters, Youko and Keiko, both white with lilac points. When we got them home they seemed fine and Mum seemed fine too, but it quickly became apparent that Julia, although gorgeous and sweet and loving, had no clue about being a mum…there are some cats that should never be mums…too young, too whatever. She would nurse her babies briefly and then walk away, leaving the kittens to get cold and lonely…and if we left her alone in the room with them, she would carry them around and deposit them in strange corners and leave them alone on the floor. As soon as we realized this, within hours, we began by putting a heating pad under their bin and adding hot water bottles to keep them warm, keeping the door to their carrier closed so Julia could not scatter them, and every hour or so, put her in with them to nurse and clean them. She was great with them for a while each time and then yell and claw to get out. The kittens also developed diarrhea almost immediately and it became clear we had four very sick kittens…but they were kept warm and clean and dry and nursed well when given their mum or a bottle, and seemed even with their issues to be doing okay…no dehydration…and with food peacefully asleep. I spent hours and hours with them, watching, stroking mum so she would nurse, cleaning them and their towels, changing hot water bottles, moving mum in and out, experimenting to see if she would stay without being locked in with them, trying to see if she would leave them together in one spot, praying and worrying, supplementing with formula…then one day…checking in on the nursing babies, all seemed fine, when I realized Mighty Mouse could not be seen amongst the pile…I found him under his mother, smothered by Mum lying on him…he was flat and still and flaccid and not breathing and I panicked and rubbed and stroked him and breathed on him and called the shelter and finally he coughed and his chest started moving again…all of which may have been a bad decision in hindsight because although he seemed to recover he succumbed to the struggle of life a few days later and we had him put to sleep. He simply got too tired, and I probably should have let him die and be peaceful when it happened…but instinct made me try without thinking. Thor, the big, black, hungry boy became much sicker a few days later in the space of a couple of hours, and at 5 am on a Sunday, we heard him begin to cry in distress and had to make the heartbreaking decision to have him put to sleep too. So we were left with Keiko and Youko…the two white sisters…still sick but as far as we could tell…happy with each other and not suffering. Julia was still a lousy mum so we kept them warm…and as clean as we could, continued supplementing their diet and they slowly began to grow and get better. They changed from white to cream…Youko with lilac ears and tail, Keiko with dark points on face, ears, paws and tail…simply beautiful kittens…with sweet tempers and good appetites. The diarrhea stopped, but as the days went by…you could see that the diarrhea, the virus, whatever had made them sick,  had caused Keiko to have growth and development issues…Youko soon out paced her in size and strength. Keiko’s problems became more apparent, possibly from mal-absorption of nutrients through the diarrhea, possibly congenital, she grew a little and regained her hair from the urine scald she suffered even with constant cleaning, but she stayed  small and her legs did not work as well as they should..her front legs bowed a bit and occasionally knuckled over…her back legs did not seem to have as much flexibility and feeling as they should…but she kept trying…playing with her sister, eating well, beginning to try out toys…purring  and cuddling… and then came the breathing issues. She began having trouble  breathing after eating and although her teeth were coming in (in that tiny mouth) and she began eating a bit of solid food…she began to be unhappy and we took her to the vet to see if there were any hope of recovery, growth and development. The consensus of the vets was that she was going to have too much suffering to let her continue…perhaps if she had not had trouble with her breathing she might have had a chance…but with the new breathing issues it was unfair to let her struggle for each breath…and the shelter totally agreed and put her to sleep…which did not go well and will haunt me ‘til the day i die…Keiko…with all her problems, did not go quietly and I will never get over the fact that for a short while I was responsible for intense fear and suffering in a kitten so small and innocent. I know from experience that euthanasia does not always go smoothly…but this one, although necessary, will haunt me, will haunt my dreams forever. No one’s fault, just one of those things, but still…..

I will always remember Keiko’s ability to motor across the floor with a speed that amazed me…she would come running as soon as she heard me at the door to her room. I will remember her tiny dark paws that held the bottle so tightly, her eyes so bright, her wee cream face and dark nose looking up at me, her tiny body pressed close to my heart as I fed her, her patience as I cleaned her, her first use of the litter box, her first enjoyment of kitten food, her favourite toy (a tiny white coil), her absolutely fierce will to be normal and play with her sister…I will remember every minute I had with a kitten so challenged and so happy (until she could not breathe) and so beautiful…with awe and respect and admiration and gladness and sadness…Keiko will be with me forever…although she only lived with me for a few weeks.

And I will question myself and my decisions, and learn from the experience, compassion and knowledge of the wonderful people at the OSPCA, of the wonderful vets, and grow in knowledge about how to deal with sickness and death in creatures so small and innocent and beautiful…I would like one day to be more sure of decisions made and roads taken. Having had a run of success with foster kittens…Julia’s litter has taught me so much about the other side of fostering…the heartbreaking side. I can only hope the decisions I made hourly, did not cause any suffering that could have been avoided…I watched so closely for any signs of discomfort, any signs that they were unhappy, and I wanted so much to give them a chance at life…that I profoundly hope that the life they had was not an unhappy one. If anything I did caused them pain or sadness I will never forgive myself…Mighty Mouse, Thor and particularly Keiko, will have me looking inward and pondering and questioning and asking always…Am I doing the right thing??…Am I doing the right thing for them or for me???…How do you ever know for sure that giving anyone or anything a chance of life, a chance of recovery is the right thing to do????

Keiko …’Kei’  means ‘celebrate’, ‘respect’, and ‘open’  and is combined with ‘ko’ which means child…has taught me to respect life, be open to possibilities and open to learning, and I will always celebrate her life…she touched my heart and soul so deeply and profoundly that I will never be the same person I was before I met her.  Keiko, so tiny, so beautiful, will live forever. And I hope, forgive me if ever I hurt her…even if only with good intentions.