If looks could kill, I’d be splattered against the wall.
But she is glad to have been spayed, though I’m sure she hasn’t forgotten the experience yet.
I had Mimi and all of four her babies spayed and neutered in two successive weeks, on Tuesdays, the girls the first week, the boys the next, using the same low-cost voucher program. The Four were just about six months old and normally I’d get it done before that but with five at once, even with vouchers, I had to save up after all the kitten stuff—exams, shots, lots and lots of food.
Luckily no one had gone into heat yet, except Mimi whose biological clock rang loudly beginning about six weeks after the kittens were born and she started calling and prancing around and was out of heat for about 15 total minutes from then until I had her spayed. No wonder she’d had six litters of kittens. I’m not sure the lady wants you to know that about her past; this is certainly not the Mimi everyone knows today.
She was to be spayed much earlier. Because her kittens were there, even though I tried to keep them physically separate, she kept producing milk, and it’s okay to spay when they are in heat and producing milk, but if you can wait a while and hope one situation or the other will resolve you reduce possible risks. So she ended up being spayed with the rest of them.
And because one of Mimi’s kittens from a prior litter, Lucy, had died of feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), which first surfaced when she was spayed, I wanted to be as careful as possible. Also because of that history of FIP my veterinarian, and the veterinarian who would do the spays and neuters, agreed to do a little extra exploratory when they spayed Mimi, looking for any possible lesions on internal organs typical of some cats with FIP and checking into some of the lumps in her mammary glands. Mimi was probably about four by then and her body had been through a lot in that time living largely outdoors and bearing six litters of kittens. Her incision would be larger and instead of stitches she would get staples.
Did you know that staples are easier than stitches for a cat to get her teeth around and pull out? I observed Mimi and Mewsette the evening I brought them home and neither showed any interest in their incisions and acted completely normal, good appetite, litterbox use, social, affectionate, but still I put a soft collar on each of them at one point in the evening.
The next morning they were both wearing their soft collars turned backward around their armpits like blue tutus—I think they had worked on each others’ collars and loosened them, but not managed to get them off.
A section of Mimi’s staples were missing, and her incision was open. I ran her back to the vet, who sedated her, cleaned the incision and replaced the staples. She also gave me the hard plastic collar.
I don’t care how the cat feels about the collar, I want the cat to heal. Mimi really didn’t complain either. She’s very tiny, though, and even though I placed her food bowl on an upended water bowl the collar still bumped into the floor when she tried to eat. And you can see by the speckles on the collar that an awful lot of stuff ended up inside.
Mimi is a good girl. When I took it off of her and gave her food, she ate breakfast. I put it back on her. Same for dinner. The next day I fed them breakfast, Mewsette’s incision looked great, Mimi’s was no longer inflamed after having replace the staples. The phone rang. I ran downstairs. I didn’t come back up for hours. I hadn’t replaced Mimi’s collar. Half her staples were gone again.
Back to the vet, apologizing for this, saying I really do know how to take care of a cat who’s been spayed! We had to start her on antibiotics and pain medication and the collar had to stay on even if I was sitting right there, but I could test her as time went on. Veterinarians know wily cats, and Mimi was, and is, nothing if not wise. The staples stayed in for ten days, though she didn’t have to wear her collar that whole time. For the next five days I did take the collar off for a few minutes and washed it while she ate her meals and nothing could make me leave her. Then I tested her for longer periods of time and the combination of the healing itself, the pain medication and the antibiotic helped to reduce the irritation so she quit pulling on the staples.
The veterinarian found nothing unusual in there. Mimi has healed fine. And now she wonders what all the fuss was about before she was spayed, but at least she has these four lovely children to show for it.
Mimi still says, “Happy Spay Day!”
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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?
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.
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!
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!
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.
*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.
“Here,” she said, “she’s in here with the kittens.” My neighbor handed me a medium-sized box with the flaps closed.
I gingerly took the box, supporting the bottom, thinking of the little black cat and her kittens inside and afraid that if I jostled the box the wrong way she’d step on a newborn kitten. This was Sunday; the kittens had been born on Thursday.
Carefully carrying the box upstairs, I could feel little movements inside, whispers of paws on cardboard, but no cat noises.
Her name was then Maia, and we never did get along well. She lived across the street but I was constantly finding her in my garden and backyard, so full of life and little critters. She never came to me when I called her or acted in any way friendly. Later, when I caught her hunting and waved my arms and said, “Go!”, she cringed and disappeared under the squashes along the fence and was gone.
She was Lucy’s mom, though, the 15-month-old kitten I lost to FIP. I’ll tell the story of Lucy some time as I study and write about FIP, but I was bereft after losing such a young kitten, and to that disease in particular.
The day after I lost Lucy, I saw Maia in my garden but felt a sudden rush of fondness—Lucy had resembled her mom in so many ways I couldn’t tell her to leave.
It was one of those wonderful hot July mornings I’ve always loved in my garden, moist with dew made into diamonds by the sun just coming over the trees. Maia was expecting again and near due, her tiny body distorted by the kittens she carried. I watched her from the basement, waddling awkwardly across the brick patio outside the basement door to the little water bowl I always kept outside for Cookie and Namir. She had a little drink, a little face wash, then walked down one of the brick paths to observe wildlife.
And I knew, as I stood in the spot where Lucy had spent so much time, that I needed to take Maia and her babies into my household. I quickly debated the pros and cons. I knew it was right to get Maia off the street and get her spayed, and raise and find homes for her kittens, in the meantime learning more about the FIP Lucy had died from. I had no idea where Lucy had encountered the FIP and I understood how it spread, but really didn’t understand how contagious it was. Maia and her kittens could be carrying it, but then the remaining cats in my household had already been exposed. Still, getting Maia and her kittens out of the population of other cats could only help stop spreading it if they were carriers.
But the real reason was to heal my own heart. I had lost my four oldest cats in one year and tried not to adopt any kitten in the years they were growing older. Lucy and her siblings had come along in the middle of those losses, and while I found homes for the others, Lucy stayed on and I didn’t try to hard to find a home for her. Once I lost Stanley and grieved his passing, I turned all my love into raising Lucy, then 9 months. At one year I had her spayed, and immediately afterward she showed symptoms, then was diagnosed with, FIP. I lost her three months later.
Worst of all, I had begun to look at my other cats, all in their teens, as walking time bombs for hurting me with their illness and passing. I’d use the analogy of getting right back on the horse after you’ve fallen, and fill my house with new life lest I begin to fear and avoid my cats. I checked with my veterinarian to discuss the risks and see what she thought, and to my surprise, she hesitated, then agreed. Perhaps she understood my emotional predicament.
And heal my heart they did. I knew I’d love the kittens, but didn’t realize how wonderful little Maia was.
I had the room all ready and set the box on the table next to the cage where they’d live. Still no noise, no scuffling. I knew momcats could be fierce, though, and she could be ready to launch as I opened the box. I slowly pulled the flaps apart and looked inside from an angle…
I saw one round green eye glowing in the darkness. Round is good, round is curious, and round is encouraging. I opened the flaps a little more, and Maia poked her head up like a periscope and surveyed the room, then relaxed. Oh, I could imagine her thinking, I finally made it into the house. Our former relationship forgotten, she looked up at me as if to say, can you help me unpack these kittens? I felt such a strong sense of Lucy in the room I turned around to look at her; of course she was not walking into the room, but of course she was there.
This was Sunday, and they had been born on Thursday so they had barely any features to distinguish them. She laid down and nursed them once we got them in the cage and we proceeded to get to know each other.
I renamed her Mimi for the lead female in the opera La Boheme, the embroiderer Mimi living the Bohemian life in Paris in the late nineteenth century. All the kittens began with names from the opera as well.
Mimi was only a few years old and is very tiny, yet she had had several litters of kittens. I think she sensed this was her last and that I would share the nurturing because she spent quality time with them, but she was really tired of kittens, and physically tired as well. She began migrating downstairs to my office, sleeping by the door and even curling up on my desk, fitting quietly in with the other cats as if she’d always been there and falling into our routine.
And so she continued, always settling on my desk; in the time I have written this she has walked in front of me four times. I added a shelf over the phone and adding machine on one side so she could keep watch on the neighborhood as I worked, and that is where she sits, looking out into the night. I write all the time about her kittens, the Fantastic Four, Mimi’s Children, but she doesn’t get the notice she deserves.
Even though she’d always been an outdoor cat, she had no interest in going out. Once she looked intently out as I came in, so I held the door open and she looked more intently, then looked up at me, Why are you holding the door open? Aren’t you coming in?
But even though she hangs near me, she is a little distant. Sometimes when I reach to pet her because she’s walking right in front of me, she draws back and gives me a horrified look, Who the hell are you, and why are you trying to touch me? She can modify her shape so that my hand glides just one-quarter inch above her fur, then she moves away gracefully.
But not always. Tonight as I was sorting end-of-year stuff in my office, she was all over me, mewing in her squeaky little mew, rubbing her little face all over my hands and my legs, trotting after me and purring so nicely and looking at me with her round eyes, then walking on the two piles I was sorting, biting the edges of the papers I was holding. She thanks me for saving her all the time in her quiet little ways and her sudden bursts of enthusiastic affection and I’d have to be a fool not to recognize it.
I had had a home for her that didn’t work out, and I’m glad. I think she and I will be friends for a very long time. Every home needs a sweet little black cat.
Mimi has had quite a bit to say since I’ve been blogging:
A little problem
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.
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?
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?
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.
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?
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
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
Well, after my week off from posting, caused unintentionally by, as I put it on Facebook: “…last weekend’s festival (nice), a heavy design workload (grateful), HEAT (ugh), and battling FLEAS with nine cats (aaaagghhh!) I took a little unintended vacation from online communications…” I have the energy and the time to catch up with what I was working on, and include a few new things.
First, I’ll be writing the final article about Lucy, including a new illustration and a few more photographs. This is the point where she is diagnosed with FIP, and I do lose her in the end, but I will always have her image, and her mom, and her half-siblings, and her extended family by keeping in touch with those who adopted her. We’re also going to be swabbing our kitties little mouths to participate in the FIP study with the University of California at Davis.
And Lucy brought me a special gift, one to celebrate on Sunday, July 25—the third birthday of the Fantastic Four! They weren’t born here but were carried across the street three days later, but we still celebrate their birthday on the actual day.
That makes Wednesday, July 28 Mimi’s Day, the day she poked her head up out of the box of kittens, looked around and said, “Well, I finally made it inside.” She’ll always be my little Honey-Mom, even if she’s long spayed.
I’ve also been working on a very special commissioned portrait, my first since completely overhauling my studio and setting up my new workspace. It is a portrait of a man and his cat, and is to be a gift to be presented at his retirement party. I love to be a part of gift-giving; the idea that someone trusts my talent enough to share such a personalized offering is the highest compliment.
I have LOTS of kitty photos too! Stay tuned!
The most exceptional kitten the world has ever known!
No, I haven’t added a kitten to my household of nine adults! But there is definitely a story, in more ways than one, behind this illustration.
Those stories contain both intense joy and overwhelming sorrow; they contain an unexpected loss of a kitten after the loss of many others, which led to the welcoming of Mimi and the Fantastic Four, and a promise to that kitten that I’d honor her brief existence with joy and love.
This illustration is one of many I’m planning for a little illustrated book of the life of a kitten, featuring Lucy, who will always be the most exceptional kitten! As I watched her grow, even before I knew she’d stay with me, at least for a while, I began intensely visualizing the slender little black kitten with the tail that curled in a perfect circle going about her busy kitten day of throwing throw rugs, tossing toss pillows and unrolling her favorite ball of purple yarn all over the house, all in front of colorful patterned backgrounds.
I created this sketch intending to continue with others, but the time just wasn’t right until now.
How Lucy, Mimi and the Fantastic Four are related
July 10 was the third anniversary of Lucy’s passing from effects of effusive FIP, so I spent the day thinking about her, writing about her, and working on this illustration.
Mimi is Lucy’s mom, but then belonged to a neighbor and was about to give birth again that July. I decided right then that Mimi and her new babies had to come to my house; I know this was suggested by Lucy, in her transition. I checked on the possible dangers to my household of further transmission of FIP—they’d already been exposed—and asked Mimi’s owner if she would just give me the mom instead of only the kittens. They were born on July 25 and arrived here July 28, 2007. (Yes, at the end of the month we’ll be celebrating a massive four-cat birthday!)
No one else has developed FIP, Mimi and the kids are still here providing love and inspiration, and it’s time I followed through with my promise to Lucy.
So this week, beginning with this article, I’ll be writing about the book I’d planned and the illustrations, about Lucy as my beloved kitten, about her mom Mimi and half-siblings the Fabulous Four, and about FIP and the study we are participating in.
Just the beginning: how Lucy came to me
In 2006, I had a house full of senior cats—my youngest was Kelly, who was then about 13, and I hadn’t had a kitten in the house for any length of time for several years. But because my four oldest seniors were requiring more care and attention I decided to even forgo the occasional rescue or foster to make sure I had the emotional and financial means to care for my old friends. Raising a kitten was out of the question.
Then the neighbor across the street said her cat Maia had had another litter of kittens, and could I help her find homes (again, third litter in two years…). I made her promise to get Maia, a petite and quiet solid black cat with pale yellow eyes who roamed my backyard wildlife habitat, spayed and consider keeping her indoors. We made arrangements for the procedure, and I e-mailed descriptions of the kittens to friends.
Three of the kittens were claimed right away, while the fourth kitten had no takers. I really didn’t feel I had the time or space to spend on an eight-week-old kitten, but it was June and all the shelters were full, plus the kitten was black and black kittens and cats have such a difficult time being adopted…well, if I couldn’t raise a little kitten after over 20 years of rescuing and fostering cats, I might as well just retire completely.
I was NOT going to keep this kitten, but in the back of my mind I kept remembering my guilty thoughts at what cats might come to me after I lost my seniors; never considering that I’d simply reduce my household, I knew the universe would continue bringing me cats.
I had had a beloved black cat years before, and I wanted to share my space with one again… I really wanted a little black cat who I’d name Lucy. And here she was. I tried plenty of other names on her, then just blurting out nonsense syllables to see what sounds she responded to. When I said “Lucy” in the middle of a string of rhyming syllables, she looked at me, surprised.
The rest of the household
I had lost cats in the past, but endured the loss of most of my household in a short period of time. Between February 2006 to January 2007, I lost my four oldest cats, one to cancer, one to kidney failure, the other two just to old age. Stanley and Moses were the last two of the ones who had been with me from those earliest days and seen me begin my career as an artist; Moses at 19 was the first loss of the four in February 2006, and Stanley, the last loss of the four in January, 2007, was with me for 21 years and came to me as an adult, so he had to be 23 or older. Cream, Peaches’ sister, succumbed to kidney failure in March, 2006, and Sophie’s vocal problems turned out to be cancer after all, and I lost her in November, 2006.
It was right in the middle of these losses that the tiny, energetic feline diva arrived in mid-May, 2006.
In the next installment I’ll describe Lucy’s first year—my joy at having a cat from kittenhood, a rarity for me—and all the silly things she did that inspired the story.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 third and final installment of her Mother’s Day trilogy with an introduction to her last litter of kittens, and a little more about the FIP study.
I loved all of my kittens, especially the four I currently live with, my last litter, who as adults are more my friends and playmates than anything like grown children still living with their mother. Funny what spaying will do for your outlook.
When I gave birth I thought I was going to be on the same little kitten treadmill as before, litter of four, all black, four weeks, in heat again before these were done, seeing these off while gestating the next litter to be born in late October. I’ve always kept things in order, but I didn’t mind the change in schedule for what happened next.
These kittens were born the last Thursday in July and we moved here the following Sunday. You can read about the reasons and the move in A Nice, Nice Kitty. We’ve been here ever since.
This litter had three boys and one girl, kind of unusual, and one of the boys is the little one while the girl is as big as the other two boys. Well, there’s no accounting for genetics. I can clearly see which of the studs is father to which of these kittens as well, though the little guy gets his more petite build from me. The most unusual feature about them is that they all have white hairs in their ears. I have no idea where they got this—I don’t have even one white hair in my ears and I don’t remember that in their fathers, but there’s genetics again.
Somehow, mom tells them all apart, though she sometimes has to guess, but she can see details most people can’t. I sit by to check her accuracy and she’s almost as good as me. Now, my mom could go on and on and on…about these four, but I have a little more restraint when it comes to these cats, so let me give a little description about each one.
First, my human mom took all four of them into her paws as soon as they came into her house, and although she was a stranger and I should have tried to protect my newborns, I decided that not only did she need to do that, it would also be good for them. And so it has been—having been handled practically since birth they are relaxed and gentle with everyone, even the lady who pokes and prods and shoots us up.
Giuseppe is the biggest and heaviest of all the four at 15 pounds, and he thinks he’s the ringleader but we don’t always pay attention to him. He trained with Namir in greeting people at the door and in the ways of getting a human’s attention, and he is long enough to stretch and reach above the waistline of most people, so people pay attention to him, but when it comes to being brave around a loud noise or the like, Giuseppe is gone. He is playful and talkative, but sometimes he tries to tackle mom by walking in front of her and grabbing her legs, considering this play. This is not a good idea. However, he cuddles and loves little Peaches and keeps her warm in the winter, and this is a very good idea. Even though he is silly and not very brave, he has a very good heart.
His name is derived from La Boheme in this way: when the kittens were babies, they looked identical except the one with the white spot. Mom was concerned about this FIP thing and about their health in general, so in order to be able to tell them apart she put a dab of tempera paint on their left ear, keeping the color consistent with the kitten. Giuseppe was the “green” kitty. Now, the composer of La Boheme is Giacomo Puccini, but Giuseppe Verdi, Joe Green to you Americans, is also a composer of opera, so mom decided to have a little joke on the name, which apparently only she understands. It takes a little too much explanation to be really funny. When he was young she called him Joey, but a big boy needs a big name.
Mr. Sunshine is the man cat of the household and even when mom’s friend started whacking the tub with a sledgehammer at the beginning of our bathroom renovation and all normal cats found safe places to hide even after mom had locked us up, Mr. Sunshine escaped and strolled into the bathroom saying, “This man needs supervision.” He’s the next biggest at 13 pounds with very thick fur that makes him look even bigger, and while he could probably take on any intruder and is totally unafraid of any noise or circumstance, he is the biggest cuddler and regularly flips onto his back and kneads his paws in the air for a belly rub.
How did a black cat get a name like Mr. Sunshine? Well, it was like this. He was supposed to be named “Marcello” after the second male lead in the opera, but mom noticed that his eyes were just like his half-sister Lucy’s, just like them, so mom decided to name him Luciano after the great tenor Pavarotti, who famously sang the lead role in La Boheme. We’re not done yet. Mom noticed that she was singing “You Are My Sunshine” to the little guy, just as she had to Lucy when Lucy was a baby, and Lucy actually is derived from the word for “light”…it’s just another one of those things that only mom understands.
He’s the little guy at only 11 lbs., and is distringushed by his smeared little white collar and large white triangular Speedo on his belly, plus the few white hairs in his armpits. He’s just like the goofy little brother, but he purrs professionally. Mom noticed that he would toddle to the cage door and purr before his eyes were even open when she walked in the room and greeted the kittens. He is very playful and the most congenial, but he is also the most friendly with other cats. When Fromage, the neonatal foster kitten, entered the house, he would sit by the bathroom door where she lived and purr. When mom decided Fromage needed the company of other cats despite some risk of disease, she opened the bathroom door to Jelly Bean who sat and purred and blinked his eyes happily as little Fromage tried to take him down; following his example, the other three siblings also adopted her, though I think Mewsette thought she was a little toy. But later when Dickie entered the house, Dickie was frightened by the advances of four large black cats, though Dickie is larger than even Giuseppe, but Jelly Bean squinted and purred and walked right up to him with his tail straight in the air and rubbed noses with him. He is the most charming little kitty, and he is the biggest proponent of drinking out of the bathroom sink faucet.
Okay, “Jelly Bean” appears nowhere in any opera, but his nose looks like a black jelly bean, and he needed a silly name, so there you are. He was originally Rodolfo because he was so completely charming, even as a newborn, but he was just too silly and became Little Guy when he was a little guy, the Jelly Bean, and it stuck.
Mewsette is the only girl, and she’s a big girl at 12 lbs. with thick lovely slightly longish fur that makes her look very big, plus a very round face and round eyes and big paws. While the boys fall all over you for attention, Mewsette is off in her own little world, having spent a good bit of her childhood in the basement training to be Basement Cat. But she is fiercely affectionate in her own good time and likes to tenderize mom’s arm or shoulder with all four paws at once, purring vigorously. She is always paired off with one of her brothers or with me for the long afternoon naps because she likes best to use another cat for a pillow. She has been working as an understudy with Cookie to learn to be the female lead in the household and to be her mom’s lady in waiting.
Now, there really is a Musetta in La Boheme, but my little girl thought that name was a little too fussy for her, so when our mom called her Musette instead she answered. Our mom of course changed the spelling on the first syllable to resemble our little kitty sounds, though none of us currently says “mew”, but why not?
How the FIP figures in
I know that several people were interested in my perfect black kittens and in me, but from overhearing conversations with my mom and the lady who comes to poke and prod and shoot us up once in a while I learned about the FIP. I am a tiny cat, as I mentioned, but my kittens were also a little small for their age and that was a concern. Apparently, not much is known about this disease and there is no test or vaccination, but if a cat is carrying FIP it’s likely the symptoms will begin to show in the first year, as they did with Lucy after she was spayed. Mom and the lady decided to keep us all together for the entire first year just to be sure; my mom said over and over that she wouldn’t want anyone to adopt a kitten and then lose the kitten as she had lost Lucy.
Well, my kittens were born at the end of July. One year later those who had been interested had adopted other kittens, and the shelters and rescue organizations were full of little kittens, not a good time to start marketing a family of five adult cats. By the time the shelters were emptying out, it was October, not a good time to be adopting out black cats.
And of course, we are especially gorgeous, especially when seen all together, so, of course, my human mom began photographing and sketching us, and before we knew it she became “our” human mom. Any feline mother would want the best home for her kittens, and why not the one she preferred herself?
Note from human: We’ll keep you updated on the FIP study, and everyone will be writing again soon.
Mimi’s Mother’s Day Trilogy