Mimi, on “Mother’s Day”

photo of black cat in the sun

Mimi on Mother's Day

Mimi’s annual Mother’s Day address

Sì, Mi chiamano Mimì, …

That’s my famous self-introduction, “Yes, they always call me Mimi…” Or, rather, that of the character after whom my rescue mom named me, the female lead in the Puccini opera La Boheme, the day I entered her household, forever.

Note that the accent is on the second syllable, in the French way.

Ha! I knew nothing of Puccini or opera before I came to this house, though I did lead quite the Bohemian lifestyle with many boyfriends and many adventures and assignations, inspiring my name, resulting in something like 24 kittens…hence the topic of my article today. I not only celebrate my own motherhood, but my adoption by my human mom, an event that changed both of our lives as motherhood will do even without the act of giving birth.

Participating in a university study…for Mother’s Day?

photo of black cat in bed covers

Lucy Helps to Make the Bed, photo © B.E. Kazmarski

First, she and I are going to embark on a very special Mother’s Day project including myself and all my kittens we’ve kept in touch with. We’ll all be participating in a study!

My human mom wrote an article about how she came to know me and ultimately adopt me in an article, A Nice, Nice Kitty. In that article you’ll read about a kitten named Lucy* from my second or third litter of kittens who my mom ended up adopting after finding good homes for the other kittens in that litter.

I didn’t live here yet, but Lucy was the kitten who was responsible for me joining this household. Lucy unfortunately had a disease called feline infectious peritonitis, or FIP, and no matter how much my mom loved her and cared for her, Lucy died at only 15 months old. My mom saw me carrying another litter of kittens in my belly—in fact, my last litter—and for many good reasons you can read about in the article mentioned above decided to take me into her house.

And for the sake of Lucy, who died so young, and for moms like my human mom, who suffer such sadness at the loss of kittens and cats of any age to this disease, we’ll be participating in a study of FIP at the University of California at Davis. We’ve just downloaded our forms and contacted the other kittens’ people, and we’ll write more about this as all of us do our cheek swabs and fill out our forms. (I’m still researching other kittens and family members before I send in the entire family tree, and discovered that the little clip of Lucy’s fur didn’t provide the right DNA for the test.~Bernadette)

I loved being a mother, but I’m such a lucky kitty now

I can’t believe I’ve gone from a loose little street cat to a happy, healthy and socially-conscious kitty participating in a university study! Unlike Mimi from La Boheme, I have gone on to live happily ever after, as should every kitty, and dog and bunny and bird and all the other animals who love to live with humans.

photo of black cat on sidewalk

Big Daddy comes for Mimi (actually coming to the door)!

But as for motherhood…I can’t deny it, I loved having kittens. I carefully chose the fathers, usually the two handsome black cats from Fifth Avenue, one tall and slender and silly and the other stockier and serious despite the little white spot on his chest, ensuring that all my children would be the same lustrous black as their parents with a mix of other physical and personality traits, and most were. Unfortunately, I loved my children so much that I also didn’t realize the world didn’t need more perfect little black kittens.

Motherhood is not for every kitty—not for most kitties!

close up photo of a black cat

Mimi tells her story

I’ve written an article listing 30 reasons why cats like me should be spayed—in fact, why all cats should be spayed except perhaps those lucky few whose people will monitor their activity and prepare for the proper adoption of the offspring.

Much as I loved being a mother I’m glad I’m spayed and can’t have any more kittens because I never realized how simply fun and enjoyable every day could be for a cat who was spayed and in a good home. Humans really recognize the royal nature of cats and enjoy indulging our every whim and we should really give them the opportunity to do that!

kittens in cat bed

The best I could do!

I’d like to tell you about the kittens I gave birth to in April 2006 including Lucy, Charlotte, Angus and Donal, and their humans, and the July 2007 litter—the Big Four, who most people who’ve been reading this blog know all too well. What mother doesn’t like to see her children become famous and successful?

Of course Lucy stayed here, and is gone but never forgotten. I see by reading mom’s e-mails that Charlotte, Angus and Donal, wish me a happy Mother’s Day, and I was so glad to see the happy photos of them come over.

She had helped to find homes for them, and she kept in touch with the people who adopted them, before she even really knew me. I like that about her, as much as I like the fact that she took me to be spayed.

blakc cat with rainbows

Lucy with rainbows in doorway.

*Bernadette says: I was very surprised, when I researched the libretto for La Boheme, that the next line in Mimi’s aria is, but my real name is Lucia.” The kitten I lost to FIP, and as Mimi tells you, the reason she came here, was named “Lucy”. As I moved Mimi and her babies from the box into the cage in the spare bedroom, I felt the strongest sense that Lucy was in the room with us, in fact turning around to look at the door, which was closed, but I had pictured it open with Lucy standing in the doorway, silhouetted by the sun on the landing. She had only been gone three weeks, it wouldn’t be unusual that I would forget she was gone in a distracted moment, but the way Mimi settled in, and the way she looked at me in that moment, I knew it wasn’t because I had forgotten. I never sensed Lucy again after that, nor felt that deep pang of loss, though those poor kittens and Mimi had to endure frequent hugs and kisses for months until I felt secure again. You’ll learn a little more about Lucy in upcoming articles, especially as we discuss FIP.


A Valentine That’s Good for Your Cat’s Heart

gray and white cat in the sun

Namir in the sun.

I’m sure plenty of kitties will be receiving heart-shaped treats and toys this February 14, and of course they will be grateful for our enthusiastic generosity for their welfare.

But you might benefit your kitty, and many others, with another type of heart-shaped gift—a donation to the Winn Feline Foundation’s Ricky Fund which funds research into Feline Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM), the most common heart ailment among cats, and a very common disease among cats in general. This research will potentially save thousands of feline lives by studying the genetics of the disease and prolong thousands more lives while providing realistic treatment for cats who have been diagnosed with this disease.

namir's bedroom eyes

Namir

You may have read my articles about Namir and his four-year struggle with, and ultimate death from, HCM in July 2009. Cats deal with illness and discomfort so well we might never know there was a health issue, and Namir had no time for any suffering, but behind our everyday activities was a lot of pain and discomfort on his part, and worry and watching on mine. There was also four different medications twice a day, occasional trips to the emergency room when he developed congestive heart failure, watching him lose weight and muscle mass and ultimately know that he had no time left, and that I had to choose euthanasia rather than watch him suffer his last hours or days.

I was lucky to have Namir for years before the symptoms showed even though we’d found the heart murmur early, and he lived to be 15. Others are not so lucky because it is not unusual for a cat to be diagnosed with HCM as a kitten and only live to the tender age of four or five. So it was with Steve Dale, nationally known and syndicated pet writer, radio show host and owner of Ricky, for whom the fund is named.

photo of steve dale and his cat Ricky

Steve and Ricky, compliments of Steve Dale

As Steve writes in one of his blog posts: “In 2002, I lost my best friend – a cat named Ricky. He was a unique dude. Long before Nora, he also played the piano (improvisations jazz). Being a social guy who didn’t relegate his musical skill to his own home – he performed ‘in concert’ at places like Petco and PETsMart. Ricky knew how to do as much as most dogs, the list included jumping through a Hoola Hoop, sitting on command, giving ‘high-fives’ and more. He helped to demonstrate cats can learn just as much as their canine cousins.”

Steve commented after a recent meeting of the Winn Feline Foundation’s board,

“I am gratified that in Ricky’s memory, we’ve actually raised over six figures for the Winn Feline Foundation Ricky Fund, and scientists have been able to prevent some cats from ever getting his horrible disease. But we still have a long ways to go to prevent all cats from ever being diagnosed. Or to find an effective drug to treat feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Right now, HCM is among the most common causes of death in middle aged indoor cats, perhaps the most common. That has to change.”

Read the rest of the above post, including more about Steve Dale and the Ricky Fund on Steve’s blog in Celebrate Valentine’s Day from Your Heart to Your Cat’s Heart and Ricky Fund for Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Research, and on the Winn Feline Foundation website where you can also make a donation.

Ricky sounds as if he was a really unforgettable character, playing the piano and doing tricks and more. Read about Ricky on Steve’s website at Ricky Showed Us What A Cat Can Be (careful, it’s a real tear-jerker, but well worth the read!).

Visit the Winn Feline Foundation for thorough and reliable information on feline health and health studies, and sign up to receive regular updates on their research.

More cats are kept as pets than dogs, but cats get less veterinary care and fewer studies are done on behalf of feline health (Catalyst Council). Research needs funding, some of which comes from foundations and government sources, but some of which needs to come from individuals like you. Cat owners need to show support for research and treatment in order to change this.


Lucy and I Fought the Good Fight

black cat with pillows

Lucy Tosses the Toss Pillows

This is the final installment of my story about Lucy, the Most Exceptional Kitten the World has Ever Known, including Meet Lucy and Lucy Inspires a Book.

A little problem

black cat at snowy window

Lucy Birdwatching

Normally I’d have a cat spayed at about four months, six at the latest depending on the circumstances. So much else was happening with the seniors in my feline family that I didn’t even think about spaying Lucy until—surprise!—she went into heat in early March. I applied to a subsidized spay and neuter program and had her spayed on what I presumed was her first birthday, April 1.

She was exactly six pounds at that time, tiny, lithe, active and social. I figured she’d always be a small cat if she was that small at one year.

A few days later I heard a noise in the basement, and Lucy seemed to be a little sheepish and subdued but otherwise fine. I was concerned, thinking she had fallen and landed on something or in a way that had injured her internally, especially so close after her spay. I called my veterinarian and described what I noticed and she described some symptoms of internal injuries for me to look for.

A week went by and I noticed that, though she hadn’t quite returned to her former activity level she was still social and affectionate, but she wasn’t eating normally. Then one morning exactly two weeks after she had been spayed she suddenly fell off the edge of normalcy and just lay on my bed in the morning, breathing heavily, looking scared and confused.

Diagnosis

black cat on table

Lucy on Wardrobe

I called my veterinarian as soon as possible that morning. I think she knew just from my description what was happening, and in fact told me that there weren’t too many options for the labored breathing, lack of appetite, failure to thrive so suddenly in an otherwise healthy kitten, and FIP was at the top of her list.

We were on the phone as she drove to her first appointment, and she changed her offer of an appointment from later that day to right after the appointment she was headed to, apparently deciding Lucy was more critical than the next appointment; I could hear her shuffling things around and I knew she’d have to call others and rearrange her schedule. I was grateful to my veterinarian’s dedication to her clients—I wanted Lucy seen as soon as possible, but I’d wait for my veterinarian. And if it was bad news, I wanted it coming from my veterinarian, not a stranger.

I remember it was pouring rain that day, and after my veterinarian arrived and examined Lucy and told me to get her to a hospital right now, not later, one that could x-ray, tap Lucy’s chest if necessary, even do an ultrasound, I drove blindly through the rain and my tears thinking how unfair it was.

The hospital tapped a total of 200cc of fluid from her little chest, uneven amounts from each side, and just a look at the fluid, typically sticky and straw-colored, told the veterinarian the likely possibility. She ran a test, and also sent out a test, but we knew what it was. Lucy really did have FIP.

What to do next?

black cat on braided rug

Lucy About to Pounce

I was advised to have her put to sleep as soon as possible, even right there. There was very little chance she would survive effusive FIP for long, it was known to be fatal within a short period of time, and that time would likely be uncomfortable, even painful for her with the effects of the disease, her lowered immunity and her organs slowly deteriorating. The fluid had put a strain on her body already, and she was open to infections, her immunity quickly taken down.

I looked at Lucy, who looked frightened but determined, and we went home.

I called my veterinarian, who knew I’d put up an effort to at least keep her comfortable for a while, also that I’d firmly believe, at least for a while, that we could beat this. How else do you beat back the darkness, but by looking for the light?

What is FIP, anyway?

black cat on table

Lucy As Centerpiece

I had heard about Feline Infectious Peritonitis, or FIP, before then. With the overcrowded shelters of the 1980s and the awareness of Feline Leukemia Virus, or FeLV, in that decade, we had suddenly learned of a whole alphabet soup of diseases that could kill our cats, and there was no known cure, even the transmission wasn’t easily understood. We had actually gotten a grip on FeLV, FIV, Feline Aids and related diseases, but FIP continued, and still continues to, elude researchers in how it mutates into the deadly form, why some exposed cats seem to be immune, and how it can be treated, even cured.

FIP kills up to 1 in 100 cats under age 5, and cats coming from more crowded or stressful situations such as shelters or catteries are at five to 10 times greater risk of contracting and developing the disease. It is virtually 100% fatal, meaning no cats have been known to survive for more than a few months beyond diagnosis without symptoms, and while a vaccination has been developed it is hardly effective enough to make it worth the effort and risk, symptoms can be treated but the treatment is palliative, not curative, and so there is no treatment or cure.

This was not going to happen to my beloved, innocent little Lucy, the light of my life after losing my elders. She would stay with me as long as possible, and who knew, maybe we’d be the ones to win. So I had to learn more.

FIP begins as a Feline Enteric Coronavirus, or FECV. A coronavirus, in short, replicates itself by invading the actual cells of a mammal or bird species so that it replicates as a part of each cell and the host’s body may not recognize the infection and often doesn’t fight it. By contrast, a cold or influenza virus simply embeds itself somewhere in the body and begins breeding in tissue such as mucous membranes of the sinuses or lungs while the body sets up an immune response to what is clearly an invader. A complication is that the disease may sit dormant for weeks to years with only vague symptoms or no symptoms at all before it manifests.

black cat on edge of rug

Lucy Ready to Rock

About 90 percent of cats who come in contact with FECV have only minor symptoms or develop other diseases which can be treated. It’s what happens to the other 10% after the initial invasion of FECV that makes it the deadly FIP—the virus somehow—and that’s what’s currently being studied—somehow mutates within the cat’s own body into FIP, and the mutation is apparently different for each cat, even among siblings, which is what prevents setting up a standard treatment or formulating a vaccine. It’s currently suspected that a genetic factor causes or allow it to mutate into the deadly form.

There are two forms of FIP, referred to as granulomatous, or dry, FIP and effusive, or wet, FIP; the first has no apparent symptoms, the second form causes fluids to build up in the abdominal or pleural cavity, which is what I saw in Lucy near the end of the two weeks of symptoms leading up to her diagnosis. This fluid can be drained but will usually return, and the fluid itself puts a strain on the body’s function, as Lucy had trouble breathing and no doubt it put a strain on her heart, and on the immune system. The dry form has little to no fluids developing in the body, but lesions develop on the internal organs and these lesions variously affect the organ’s function and lead to secondary infection.

Whew. I looked at Lucy and she looked at me. That was a lot to take in. And it wasn’t looking very positive.

And the other concern: she had had siblings, her mother was still out there, and I had other cats in the house, all of them seniors, and Namir with his advanced heart condition. Who else was at risk? And how the heck did she get it? Where? And when? Should I confine her from the others?

Lucy in Action

Lucy in Action

I was relieved to find that FIP itself, because of the nature of the coronavirus mutation, wasn’t “laterally transmissible” from one cat to another, meaning she couldn’t pass FIP directly to another cat, so she hadn’t infected my household, though she could transmit FECV and I would have to observe the others to see if anything would develop (nothing ever has). The disease is only transmissible by contact with the feces from an infected cat, and it could be carried on fur and clothing, surviving for up to two weeks after the feces were passed, but because the disease could sit dormant for a period of time it was hard to tell where she might have picked it up. I have ten litterboxes in my house, and every so often one of the older cats, especially as they had come near their end, had had accidents. All my cats have been rescues, coming in contact with everything nature had to offer, any one of them could have been a carrier of sorts.

I don’t think I’ll ever know how she got the disease. I gave up trying to figure that out in the interests of finding out what I could do to help her in the moment.

Taking what measures I could

black cat on windowsill

Lucy on the Windowsill

Once the fluids had been drained from her chest, she was almost back to normal, and for most of the next three months she really just seemed herself though I could see a decline in her appetite and activity level. We went to work making up for time we wouldn’t have later.

I always had my little kit of antibiotics, fluids, prednisone, vitamins, flower essences, homeopathic remedies and so on, and through the years I’ve variously used acupuncture, T-touch, reiki and other healing treatments, and I looked and asked around to see what others had done with allopathic and naturopathic medicine in the case of a cat with FIP. I was willing to try anything.

I immediately began feeding her a raw diet, though I noticed that she had trouble eating the meat or canned food that I also offered. I had to back off to dry food because she seemed to have some issue in her sinuses that impaired her breathing while she ate wet food, something I had occasionally seen with Namir during a bout of congestive heart failure as well. I still gave her little “treats” of raw meat, though.

Most veterinarians had prescribed antibiotics and I had her on B-complex injections and interferon.

black cat with heart

Lucy with Heart

I did my own intuitive test to see if a gem or crystal would help protect or heal her body, and I envisioned the color amber and a heart, perhaps because the fluids had been somewhat amber-colored and in her pleural cavity, but oddly enough I had a heart-shaped piece of amber on a satin cord that had come from a family member’s visit to Poland where some of the oldest and most beautiful amber is found. I tied this around Lucy’s neck to hang against her chest and she wore it without complaint until her last day.

There didn’t seem to be any other medication or treatment that would accomplish anything, and I really didn’t want Lucy’s time to be taken up with treatments and shoving things in her mouth. She seemed comfortable and relaxed at the end of April, so we just went on as if nothing was wrong.

Around the beginning of June at an animal event I encountered an animal intuitive I had known and worked with a few times before, Renee Takacs, and explained my situation with Lucy and Namir. She did a long-distance TAT, or Tapas Acupressure Technique, session for each of them and for both together. She mentioned that Lucy felt some blockage in her sinuses, way up inside there, and we needed to keep an eye on that. I remembered her difficulty eating, but it was impossible to diagnose at the time.

We went on about the same for the next month. I did what I usually do—took lots of photos, did a few sketches, and it was in this time when Lucy was always with me still being a kitten though a little subdued, that I began my sketches for her book, the ones I’m working with now.

An Okay Three Months

black cat with table

Lucy the Art Cat

At the beginning of July it was clear that Lucy was having more trouble eating and swallowing both food and water, and she was losing weight and was dehydrated, and was also developing anemia, one of the side-effects of FIP. An exam and x-ray showed nothing encroaching in her mouth, but my veterinarian suggested it was in her sinuses (as warned above), and I imagined an infection had managed to get into her nasal cavity. Perhaps the amber had protected her heart as she never developed any more fluids in her chest, but the infection in her sinuses had likely been there from the beginning.

And I had just taken down the bag of subcutaneous fluids in the kitchen, but now I put one back up, beginning the tradition of always leaving one hanging in the kitchen to “ward off the evil spirits”. It seemed that I no sooner took the bag down than I needed one again.

I did my best to keep Lucy comfortable as she had increasing trouble eating and drinking for what would be her last week. She was quiet and blinked her eyes frequently, and I imagined a kitty headache.

On the evening of July 9, she and I had a little collision in the kitchen, I was turning on one foot with the other in the air as she came around the corner of a cabinet and we lightly bumped, my foot to the side of her face, and she seemed okay, though confused. A little later I was on the deck and heard a commotion inside, coming in to see Namir looking startled and concerned and blocking the doorway to the living room, then to the basement as Lucy reeled around the room.

Was it a seizure? Had I knocked her harder than I thought with my foot? Or had this started before that when she blindly came around the corner of the cabinet and simply grown worse in a few minutes?

Black cat

Lucy Pumpkin

I rushed her to emergency, and the reeling episode had ended but her eyes were oddly moving back and forth, reminding me of the silly cat clock where the eyes and tail move back and forth with the ticking of each second. Aside from telling me things I already knew about her general condition, the veterinarian couldn’t tell me much about this condition except it meant that the possible infection in her sinuses might be affecting her brain by adding pressure in her skull, or it may have even infected her brain. The eye movement was a form of strabismus, meaning that she had lost neural control of her eye movements and likely would not regain them. I have since learned that when the fluid collects in the pleural cavity, rare enough, it will also sometimes collect in the eyes and even in the central nervous system, rarer still, but this is likely what happened.

He sternly added that I could not leave her like this for long, and needed to consider euthanasia.

We went home, of course, and as I sat up with Lucy that night she had two more bouts of what now appeared to be vertigo. She looked frightened, and as we settled on the bed waiting for morning to call a friend for an opinion, to call Renee Takacs just for reassurance and then to call our veterinarian for “that” call, I could tell that Lucy accepted what would come. No doubt she had been holding symptoms off and dealing with her body the best she could for all for the past three months, and could no longer.

The Transition

blakc cat with rainbows

Lucy with rainbows in doorway.

My veterinarian asked me if I was sure of my decision, but she made space in her schedule at 1:00 p.m., and I followed with a call to Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation. It seemed sudden to each of them who hadn’t seen the slow transition, then the previous day’s sudden change, and Lucy still looked healthy. I was almost heartened when my veterinarian looked her over and over, trying to find a reason not to have to euthanize a young kitty, but the eye rolling and vertigo continued and I knew Lucy was ready.

Namir paced nearby, then jumped up onto the arm of the recamier where I was laying with Lucy on my chest. They were buddies, and he was my comfort, so he cuddled above my head and purred and we sat quietly for a while as the others wandered by until it was time to hand her to Deb Chebatoris.

two cats at screen door

Lucy and Namir at the Door

I slipped the amber heart from Lucy’s neck before I left and held it in my hand all the way home. On the sewing machine in my bedroom I have photos of family and friends and all the cats who’ve gone to the Bridge, gently lit at night by a small lamp. I would choose a photo of Lucy later after I’d had time to think about it, but for now I slipped the satin cord of the amber heart over the round finial of the lamp and laid it gently against the dark verdigris finish of the metal shade.

After an awful night’s sleep I awoke and looked at the heart, then later as I made the bed, without Lucy’s help, I reached over and cupped the heart between my hands. It was warm, very warm, and I knew that Lucy was home.

My own transition, and Mimi and her babies

black cat on striped rug

Lucy Pink and Gray

For the first time in about 20 years, I had only four cats. From February 2006 to July 2007, I had lost five, more than half my household, all my oldest, then my youngest, and it was a transition for me too. Suddenly I just had too much time on my hands and too much time to think.

After that much loss, it was hard to imagine that anything lives long enough to love it, or that it’s worth the risk. I still had Peaches, Cookie, Namir and Kelly, aged 17, 15, 13 and 11, Namir with his HCM, the others senior approaching geriatric, and I knew that if I didn’t do something, and soon, they’d all become objects of fear and pain to me.

On July 11, the day after I let Lucy go, I was in my basement with the door open, Kelly sitting by the screen door, and I saw Lucy’s mom on the brick patio outside. She came near the door and she and Kelly had one of those cat conversations where they both crouch quietly and perfectly still and don’t look at each other, but you know an immense amount of communication is happening.

Later on my deck, I looked down and noticed Maia, her name then, waddling down the brick path and realized she was expecting—again. I need to take her in, I thought, and even as I dismissed the thought of taking my neighbor’s cat and kittens and the trouble and expense of raising them and finding them homes I could picture them inside and I pictured Lucy inside.

I didn’t run and grab Maia then, instead I called my veterinarian.

“I’d like to take in Lucy’s mother,” I said.

“O-kay…?” she said slowly, giving me time to explain.

“She keeps having babies, they’ll never get her spayed,” I said, “that has to stop. And aside from that, we’ll never know where Lucy got the FIP, but if her mom carries the genes to allow the mutation, and keeps passing it onto these kittens, the least I can do is get her and them off the streets and we’ll have that many fewer cases of FIP out there.”

“Yes,” she said, “I think that’s a good idea.”

profile of black cat

Lucy's Profile

I shook my head in disbelief. My veterinarian never agrees with me right off, at least she discusses things, and I was certain I’d get a lecture about keeping my numbers down and taking care of Namir and the older ones and so on. Maybe she felt sorry for me, maybe she agreed with me, after all she had been through each of the losses right along with me, but either way, we agreed that my household had already been exposed to FIP and it couldn’t get any worse, and getting Maia off the streets was a good thing to do. Scrub down the house, especially anything to do with cat litter, and that should take care of any traces. I’d ask around to see if there were any other risks associated with bringing in Maia with her next litter.

No one gave me any reasons not to, so I asked my neighbor if this time, instead of giving me the kittens to find homes, if she would just give me the cat. She said that would be fine.

No room in my house accommodates kittens well except the bathroom. I actually wasn’t sure what Maia would be like since she wasn’t particularly friendly outside, and I wanted to keep her in a situation where she couldn’t get out into the rest of my house. It took me a few days to clear out a space in my studio large enough to put a large dog cage and outfit it with basic stuff for birthing and babies, plus food, water and litter for Maia.

As it happened, the kittens were born before I was ready to take them all, but that’s another story I’ll tell one day soon.

I will say, though, that the day I brought them in, Lucy was in the room with us. More on that when I introduce the new family.

For more information on FIP I recommend several resources:

SOCK FIP, http://www.sockfip.com/, the official page of the genetic study of FIP at the University of California at Davis led by Dr. Niels C. Pedersen. This site explains as much about FIP as the researchers know and is regularly updated with information. They also accept DNA in the form of cheek swabs from cats who have FIP or who are related to cats with FIP, and the data gathered from the DNA is entered into the study. They are especially interested in freely-bred cats who pass genetic information randomly in addition to cats bred at catteries.

The Winn Feline Health Foundation, http://www.winnfelinehealth.org/, which supports and funds studies of all feline health issues. You can read through articles (http://www.winnfelinehealth.org/Health/FIP.html) about FIP, especially one published by Drs. Susan Little and Melissa Kennedy in January 2010,  (http://www.winnfelinehealth.org/Pages/FIP_Web_2010.pdf). You can also donate to the Bria Fund for FIP research (http://www.winnfelinehealth.org/Pages/BriaFund.html).

The American Association for Feline Practitioners, http://www.catvets.com/search/search.aspx?Search=go&Submit=search&q=fip, has links to articles on FIP research and treatment as well.

Steve Dale features one-hour interviews with each Dr. Niels C. Pedersen and Dr. Diane Addie which you can access as podcasts (http://www.stevedalepetworld.com/print-archive/tribune-media-services/boxes/428-fip-update). Also search FIP on his website, http://www.stevedalepetworld.com/.

And well-known pet health and behavior author Amy D. Shojai has two detailed but easily understood articles on her website at http://www.shojai.com/articles-index.html.

These are the sources I used for this article, and also back when I initially researched FIP. From Cornell University’s Veterinary School to Tufts University and other research schools and programs in between, you’ll also find plenty of other information out there about FIP.


Coming in July

photo of bergamot flower with bee

Bergamot with Bee

July brings the anniversary of many things feline-related—losses, rescues, births, new artwork, and I’m looking forward to sharing the stories and related articles and information.

I begin below with two losses, but read on, they turn into beautiful things.

Namir

photo of Namir

Namir, photo © B.E.Kazmarski

Today as I compiled and packaged my entries for the Cat Writer’s Association Communications Contest I had bittersweet memories of June 30 last year, the last day Namir spent with me. Though we knew his time was very limited due the advanced nature of his hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) and more frequent and severe bouts of congestive heart failure (CHF), his last day was just like any other day and for all that he and I shared I am glad we didn’t share a long and painful decline and debility.

I wrote a tribute to Namir about two weeks after he passed, and I’ll run this July 1, in memory of the first anniversary of his passing. It’s not sad because Namir was full of energy and creativity, a truly remarkable cat beloved by visitors to my house—in fact, he was always greeted before I was. I’m looking forward to sharing his antics and laughing over the goofy things he did.

And in his memory I’ll be providing links to information about HCM, which is all too common in cats but with newer treatments and medications is no longer a death sentence.

Lucy

photo of black cat in bed covers

Lucy Helps to Make the Bed, photo © B.E. Kazmarski

Between February 2006 and January 2007, I lost my four oldest cats. In the middle of those losses I fostered and found homes for a litter of kittens born to my Mimi, before she was my Mimi; I kept one of those kittens though I hadn’t wanted to with all the needs of my older cats. I hadn’t had a kitten for years, and my next youngest cat was then 11. Sleek, petite Lucy, solid black with yellow eyes became the new future of my household.

But when she was a year old she was diagnosed with effusive feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), and I lost her at 15 months. The entire experience was a story in itself, but to honor Lucy I’ve been working on some artwork using her image, bright and colorful and playful as the kitten she was. I’ll be glad to introduce the artwork and the story of her kittenhood in paintings.

Mimi and the Fantastic Four

kittens nursing

Kittens nursing, ear colors

As much as I would rather have shared a long life with Lucy, she gave me a wonderful gift from beyond the rainbow. A few days after she had passed I was watching her mother in my garden, quite pregnant with another litter, and I know Lucy put the idea in my mind that hot July morning to take her in.

So July brings a rescue day and a birthday. The Big Four will be three years old on July 26, and Mimi joined my household on July 29. Now that’s a reason to celebrate!

And in honor of Lucy, the whole extended family, even the kitties who don’t live with me and those from other of Mimi’s litters, will be getting swabbed and entered into the FIP study at the University of California at Davis. I’ll be providing links to information about FIP and writing a few articles about treating FIP.

Declawing Alternatives

black cat paw

Mimi's paw with claws retracted.

Many years ago a good friend of mine compiled a huge, comprehensive page of information about cats. This friend happens to be the mom of Angus and Donal, Lucy’s brothers, and she is also the person who taught me my first few lines of HTML coding back in 1997, sending my career off in an extra direction of design.

Amby’s Cat Information Page at www.amby.com still exists, and though she hasn’t had the time to update links and information I’ve decided there is too much there to just let it sit unnoticed. I’ll be extracting information, updating links and posting articles on The Creative Cat, beginning with an article Amby wrote detailing the process for trimming claws. In addition to the illustrations, we discussed videotaping the process and adding that to the article as well, so we’ll be working on that project for July as well.

Portraits

Now that I’ve got my studio in shape, I’ll be able to begin working on portraits again, and I really can’t wait. I’ll be posting updates as I work so you’ll be able to see them take shape.

cats on desk

Dinner, now.

But for now, Peaches, who is doing well now that we seem to have her right inner ear under control, wants dinner. Everyone who’s been sending good vibes to Peaches, thanks! Keep it up every so often because it really seems to work for her!


Mimi’s 2006 Children: Lucy, Charlotte, Angus and Donal

black cat on windowsill

Mimi on the Windowsill

Mimi continues her Mother’s Day article with an introduction to one of her litters of kittens.

I’d like to tell you about the kittens I gave birth to in April 2006 including Lucy, Charlotte, Angus and Donal, and their humans. Of course Lucy stayed here, and is gone but never forgotten. Charlotte was adopted by one family, Angus and Donal by another, and I am always happy to hear news of them because they are in excellent, loving homes. Before I even came here my current human mom had helped to find homes for them which is how we know where they are, and she kept in touch with the people who adopted them because they are friends of hers.

Meet some of my children

Now, though, I’d like to introduce you to some of the kittens we’ve been able to keep in touch with. I see by reading mom’s e-mails that the three who were born in Lucy’s litter, Charlotte, Angus and Donal, wish me a happy Mother’s Day, and I was so glad to see the happy photos of them come over. She had helped to find homes for them, and she kept in touch with the people who adopted them, before she even really knew me. I like that about her, as much as I like the fact that she took me to be spayed.

I might add that I am quite petite for an adult cat, recently reaching all of seven pounds and no saggy belly, even after all those kittens. In this household, even though little Peaches weighs less at 5.5 pounds, she is still larger than me in height and length. My paws barely cover a quarter. When people see me, they think I’m the kitten!

Spring 2006 litter

kittens in cat bed

The best I could do!

This litter was special because one of the kittens was not black—in fact, she was a crazy calico! Her father happened to be an unneutered gray and white male living in the household with us who had been the kitten to yet another unspayed dilute calico female…yes, you read that right, we had a big problem over there, but it’s all “fixed” now.

Anyway, this litter had three typically perfect black kittens, two boys and one girl, and then a kitten who was fully half black if you put all her black parts together, then half…orange tabby? Where the heck did that come from? That dilute calico grandma, I guess. Aren’t genetics amazing? And isn’t she lovely? When you look at her from the front she looks like two cats were put together.

Charlotte the crazy calico

calico cat under christmas tree

Charlotte's first Christmas

When my human mom sent out the e-mail to friends that kittens were available, one of her customers (my mom is self-employed and apparently all her customers are cat lovers), immediately said he’d like to adopt the calico girl for his son who had one cat and traveled.

calico cat

Charlotte all grown up.

Her name became Charlotte and she went off to spend the night with her new human grandparents. She proceeded to run behind and underneath the gas stove necessitating a delicate shutoff of the gas, disconnect and moving of the stove, at which point she ran into the basement and was lost for hours. She appeared in the middle of the family room later bouncing on her toes and covered with cobwebs to be installed in the bathroom until morning.

She went on to her forever home and immediately dominated the placid and sleepy Joey, a nice orange boy who gets his exercise by watching her bounce off the walls—still. She’s a moderately big girl, a little larger than average.

Angus and Donal

two black cats on bed

Angus and Donal with "sister" Molly.

Yes, little Scotscats, so don’t worry, the name is spelled correctly. My human mom has many, many friends who love kitties as well, including people who have adopted from her in the past. The couple who adopted the two boys had, years ago, adopted two other boys born to a momcat she had taken in and they adopted the momcat as well.

This time they called my mom, each on a separate phone extension in the house, and said they’d like to adopt the two brothers because they had several older cats and the brothers could torture each other while they enjoyed watching kittens grow up.

Angus and Donal’s names harken back to their human mom’s Scots heritage, but that doesn’t help in telling them apart! These two apparently had a good bit of my looks and apparently one of the black studs was father to both because they are very, very similar—I even had trouble telling them apart.

Now, at four years old, slight differences in eye color and hair coverage in the ears as well as their vocabulary and singing style (remember, I have opera singing in my heritage) are a few quick ways to distinguish one from the other. Of course, like all kitties, they have distinctive habits, like where on their mom they sleep. As a last resort, you can upend them and check for the small gathering of white hairs near the bottom of Angus’ belly.

Tomorrow: the July 2007 litter—the Big Four!

Read Mimi’s address on Mother’s Day

Note from human mom:

These three cats are direct siblings to Lucy and will be of most interest to the Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) study. FIP enters the host’s body as Feline Enteric Coronavirus (FECV) but must mutate into FIP, and infection may not be evident until years after the infection; FIP can also affect the cat in various forms and show various symptoms, so the whole thing is a puzzle. I’m not sure where Lucy may have come in contact with FIP, but if her mother and all her siblings did and only she contracted the disease, their genetics may show where the difference lies among them all.

I need to look for other photos of this litter of kittens! I must have taken more photos of the kittens on film, but I just can’t find any more.


A Valentine That Goes Straight to Your Cat’s Heart

I’m sure plenty of kitties will be receiving heart-shaped treats and toys on Sunday, and of course they will be grateful for our enthusiastic generosity for their welfare.

But you might benefit your kitty, and many others, with another type of heart-shaped gift—a donation to the Winn Feline Foundation’s Ricky Fund which funds research into Feline Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM), the most common heart ailment among cats, and a very common disease among cats in general. This research will potentially save thousands of feline lives by studying the genetics of the disease and prolong thousands more lives while providing realistic treatment for cats who have been diagnosed with this disease.

namir's bedroom eyes

Namir

Many of you have read my articles about Namir and his four-year struggle with, and ultimate death from, HCM in July 2009. Cats deal with illness and discomfort so well we might never know there was a health issue, and Namir had no time for any suffering, but behind our everyday activities was a lot of pain and discomfort on his part, and worry and watching on mine, not to mention four different medications twice a day, occasional trips to the emergency room when he developed congestive heart failure, watching him lose weight and muscle mass and ultimately know that he had no time left, and that I had to choose euthanasia rather than watch him suffer his last hours or days.

I was lucky to have Namir for years before the symptoms showed, and he lived to be 15. Others are not so lucky because it is not unusual for a cat to be diagnosed with HCM as a kitten and only live to the tender age of four or five. So it was with Steve Dale, nationally known and syndicated pet writer, radio show host and owner of Ricky, for whom the fund is named.

photo of steve dale and his cat Ricky

Steve and Ricky, compliments of Steve Dale

As Steve writes in one of his blog posts: “In 2002, I lost my best friend – a cat named Ricky. He was a unique dude. Long before Nora, he also played the piano (improvisations jazz). Being a social guy who didn’t relegate his musical skill to his own home – he performed ‘in concert’ at places like Petco and PETsMart. Ricky knew how to do as much as most dogs, the list included jumping through a Hoola Hoop, sitting on command, giving ‘high-fives’ and more. He helped to demonstrate cats can learn just as much as their canine cousins.”

Steve commented after a recent meeting of the Winn Feline Foundation’s board,

“I am gratified that in Ricky’s memory, we’ve actually raised over six figures for the Winn Feline Foundation Ricky Fund, and scientists have been able to prevent some cats from ever getting his horrible disease. But we still have a long ways to go to prevent all cats from ever being diagnosed. Or to find an effective drug to treat feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Right now, HCM is among the most common causes of death in middle aged indoor cats, perhaps the most common. That has to change.”

Read the rest of the above post, including more about Steve Dale and the Ricky Fund on Steve’s blog in Celebrate Valentine’s Day from Your Heart to Your Cat’s Heart and Ricky Fund for Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Research, and on the Winn Feline Foundation website where you can also make a donation.

Ricky sounds as if he was a really unforgettable character, playing the piano and doing tricks and more. Read about Ricky on Steve’s website at Ricky Showed Us What A Cat Can Be (careful, it’s a real tear-jerker, but well worth the read!).

Visit the Winn Feline Foundation for thorough and reliable information on feline health and health studies, and sign up to receive regular updates on their research.

More cats are kept as pets, but cats get less veterinary care and fewer studies are done on behalf of feline health (Catalyst Council). Research needs funding, some of which comes from foundations and government sources, but some of which needs to come from individuals like you. Cat owners need to show support for research and treatment in order to change this.


Free cats? If done carefully, it might work

Henry at the vets

Henry

Anyone who has put cats or kittens up for adoption has been warned to NEVER give cats away for free.

But the Winn Feline Foundation funded a study to see what would be the outcome if shelters and rescue organizations–not individuals–tried offering cats for adoption at no charge while still following their usual adoption procedures, and the results were quite different from what was expected.

Why would they plan this study, even though the logic would say that a person who can’t afford to adopt a cat probably can’t afford to keep a cat considering food and veterinary care? Because there are so many cats in shelters who would otherwise be euthanized for overcrowding in open-door shelters, and no-kill shelters have a finite number of cages and other resources and they end up turning away cats, but a person who can’t afford the adoption fee can still provide a loving home for that cat, and save a life, directly or indirectly.

As background on the “free cat” issue, it’s not just guesswork, but follow-ups have shown that these adopters are not always interested in the cat as a pet.  Often the adopter just wants a “mouser”, for instance, and the cat gets no care and no real home. Other times the cats are not even intended to be adopted as pets, but are used for horrible purposes like hunting bait, or, as might be suspected, taken to a lab to be used for experimentation.

But if a shelter or adoption agency would go through its full adoption procedure–interview, application, background checks, follow-up visit–with the exception of collecting money, then they’ve done what they would do for any cat to help find it a good home.
Keep reading…


Why People Do—and Don’t—Adopt Cats

The neighborhood tomcat

The neighborhood stud cat on seeing his girlfriend

It’s proven in statistics and surveys that, although more cats than dogs are kept as household pets, cats overall get fewer visits to the veterinarian and fewer studies are done on behalf of their physical and emotional health and welfare.

This overall lack of treatment also bears out in lower spay/neuter and adoption rates and, unfortunately, somewhat higher euthanasia rates—and an average of 3,000 kittens born every hour in the United States (more on that later).

The Morris Animal Foundation, in its Happy Healthy Cat Campaign, decided to begin a search for the answer to this lack before the cat is even adopted. They’ve recently completed an online survey of non-cat-owners, asking how likely they would be to adopt a cat and if so, why, and if not, why not.

This would help to focus on two things: finding the most likely adopters of cats, and determining the objections to cat ownership so that education and awareness could help potential feline owners with these issues making adoption more likely and permanent. Theoretically, those homes would be more likely to increase feline health care and the general population of more attentive cat owners would request more studies on feline health. If education could be simply given to the general audience of potential homes and adoption campaigns could be targeted at the audience most likely to adopt it might make all the difference to cats in shelters all over the country.
Keep reading…


Why is June Adopt-a-Cat Month?

Cats don't belong in a cage.

Cats don't belong in a cage.

June is “Adopt-a-Cat month”. Not that people likely to adopt need a reason or a season, but because, in June, shelters are overrun with kittens from unspayed female cats, and often the mother cats themselves. It is at this time that “no-kill shelters” have to close their doors and turn cats away, and when, horribly, “open-door shelters” have to start reducing their population of cats to make room for the new arrivals.

It’s easy to point the finger at the shelter and say they shouldn’t do that, but that’s not where the fault lies and everyone knows it. The shelters have a limit by law and they can’t exceed that, plus staff are already overextended. People bring in new animals and some of the ones who’ve been around the longest have to move aside. I’ll stop dancing around it—some cats will be euthanized to make room for the new arrivals. Cats lose their lives because too many others aren’t responsible enough and decide to toss the burden onto the shelter.

The shelter needs to serve all the animals that come through its door, and must make a decision to put its limited efforts into cats that are most adoptable, usually the younger, healthier, cuter kittens. You can visit the website of any shelter to see the figures and find out how they decide which cats will go. Usually, they are older, they may have chr0nic health problems or chronic attitude problems or both, something that keeps them from going to a forever home with a loving family. Before you condemn the shelter for making that decision, imagine the people at the shelter who have to actually carry out the task. No one works at a shelter just because it’s a job. Most people work there because they love animals. And they are the ones who have to choose the cats and euthanize them.

Imagine if that was you. I had to stop volunteering years ago because I cried every time I showed up. I foster at home, where I’m not overwhelmed by the scope of it.

There is no reason for an unspayed cat unless she is a show cat, and these are few and far between. Responsible breeders take names of interested persons, and each kitten has a home before it’s born.

How can you help to stop this? Just spay every female cat you can. None of this “kids need to witness the miracle of birth” or “it’s good for a cat to have one litter” or “I just can’t catch her in between” or “she likes to have kittens”. The deaths of 2,000 cats in the Pittsburgh area every year directly related to overpopulated shelters makes any of those excuses a very poor choice.

And, in fact, recent studies show it’s very bad for a cat to have a litter, or even reach her first heat because of the risk of breast cancer. In a study done in Philadelphia, 91% of the cats who developed breast cancer had been spayed after age 1, 80% after age 6 months, 2% prior to their first heat.

Spaying is not cheap, but specialty clinics and programs are available in every major city. Around the Pittsburgh area, you can get a cat spayed for under $50. A visit to the website of any shelter will give you a list of low cost spay and neuter programs in your area, one that is up to date for hours and rates. It may not be convenient, but you only have to do it once. And you don’t have to take the risk of waiting until the cat is six months old as we used to, when some cats have already gone into heat once or even twice, possibly even conceived if they’ve been around an unneutered male.

Shelters around Pittsburgh never have puppies because local laws have required people to keep their dogs contained. We can do that for cats, too. Let’s help those who choose to work in shelters spend their time taking care of animals and helping them be adopted, not choosing which ones live and die.


Information on Feline Health and Wellness

I get some workday assistance from my feline household.

I get some workday assistance from my feline household.

You may be researching a specific topic or you may simply be curious and reading general feline topics. In either case finding complete and accurate information can seem to be elusive. If you are searching on the internet you’ll find plenty of sites with anecdotal information from cat owners who have experienced and dealt with certain conditions and give very helpful advice, especially if you find yourself in a similar predicament, and you’ll find sites that offer a variety of topics, but the information under the topic just doesn’t go deep enough. I’m always careful to research my information further and find it supported in a variety of sources, both on the internet and off.

Whether I’m writing about cats or I’m researching something on behalf of my own cats’ health, I have a list of sites I use for research that have always provided a good starting point, a few which cover all animals and a few which specialize in feline issues. I usually head to the library after that so that I can look in publications that aren’t entirely available on the internet.

Here are a few of my favorite all-animal sites because of the depth of their information.

“Good News for Pets”, found at www.goodnewsforpets.com , is a great all-around link to health, welfare and entertainment news for dogs and cats that is constantly updated. Read Steve Dale’s column and visit his “Pet World” site, and from Mordecai Segal—if you’ve purchased health or training books featuring dogs or cats, you’ve probably got one by him.

You may also recognize another author included in several “Chicken Soup” books and also if you own various popular books on natural pet health care, Amy Shojai, whose site can be found at www.shojai.com. Read through her wealth of articles and sign up to receive her “Pet Peeves” e-newsletter.

Both the ASPCA, www.aspca.org and the HSUS, www.hsus.org have huge sites packed with practical information about dogs, cats, birds, rabbits and more for diet, training, and general health as well as newsworthy updates on what each organization is doing to make both companion animals’ and wild animals’ lives better.

For cat-specific information, you’ll find a link on the “Good News for Pets” site to “Cat Wellness News” at www.catwellness.org where you can read current releases and click to even more information on research and health at (AAFP) American Association of Feline Practitioners, (CWA) Cat Writers’ Association, Inc., The Cat Fanciers Association, Cornell Feline Health Center, KNOW Heartworms, and Winn Feline Foundation.

Speaking of the Winn Feline Foundation at www.winnfelinehealth.org , you can nominate your favorite veterinarian to the “Veterinary Honor Roll” and sign up for frequent brief releases of research results for all the research they are funding and tracking.

You’ll find the answers to lots of questions at FelineExpress.com, www.felinexpress.com from people who have been caring for cats for years.

So curl up with a kitty on your lap and maybe a few on your desk and read all about what’s new with felines!