Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Thirteen years ago, while I was working as a volunteer for a local animal shelter, I met Ceecee. She and her sister, white kittens with gray stripes on their heads, were found with their mother in an empty outdoor cage at a local zoo. Ceecee had a cranky streak, right from the start. The first time I held her, she was no bigger than my palm, but she resented my handling her, and like the feisty little cat that she is, she scratched me and tried to bite my thumb.
The shelter gave the two kittens all their shots and when the time was right, spayed them. When her sister was adopted, I decided Ceecee would come home with me and live with us, as long as Catboy accepted her, which of course he did. In fact he was ecstatic to have a playmate...and wrestling partner. She,on the other hand, was somewhat less than thrilled. Catboy likes to stalk her, jumping out and tackling her, biting her stomach until she screams. To him, it's all fun and games, but I don’t think she appreciates his idea of play. Still, they have grown together like an old married couple: bickering one moment and affectionately grooming each other the next.
The worst times for Ceecee are when she gets her claws clipped. This is definitely a two-person job. One person has to totally restrain her, keeping a hand under her chin so she can’t bite the lucky groomer. Each click of the clipper is punctuated by an unearthly growl and a scream that will surely set the hairs on the back of your neck to standing up.
Ceecee is not usually in a good mood. She has been known to bite the hand that feeds her.
Still, she has her moments. Sometimes, in the early morning or late at night, she likes to seek out a sleepy person and cuddle up next to them, rubbing her face and head against their leg or arm, asking to be petted. In this way, she expresses and requests affection.
My daughter has often opined that Ceecee is a “bee-atch” and a not-nice cat. I disagree. She may not be the friendly, playful, happy creature that Catboy is, but I defend her right to be who she is. She doesn’t feel the need to curry the favor of humans. She seems to be saying, “This is who I am, take it or leave it…after all, I didn’t ask you to adopt me.” And I’m okay with that. I love her, despite her disposition. I think we all deserve to be loved unconditionally by those closest to us, despite our dispositions, humans and animals alike.
A few weeks ago I took Ceecee to her annual appointment with the Vet, for her shots and a check-up. We have long been aware that she suffers from a heart condition, an arrhythmia. They recommended that we schedule her for a dental cleaning, so as to avoid a gum infection which could worsen her heart problems, and we agreed. On the appointed day for her cleaning, however, we got a phone call shortly after dropping her off, telling us that they’d decided not to do it and that we should come and get her. It seems her heartbeat was very erratic, and it was deemed too much of a risk for her to undergo anesthesia. I understood completely and brought her home.
When we got home, I noticed immediately that something was very wrong. Ceecee staggered out of the carrier and fell onto her side. When she looked up at me, I saw that while her right eye looked normal, the left one looked strange. The pupil was a tiny pinprick, and the lower nictating membrane was drawn up halfway. Her left ear was drooping to the side at an angle, while the opposite one looked normal. My first thought was that she had had a stroke. I noticed that there was dried, reddish fluid on the fur underneath her left ear. I called the Vet’s office immediately and they asked me to bring her back in.
The Vet who had seen her earlier that day told me that because her ears had needed to be cleaned, they had gone ahead and done that while she was there. She did not believe that it had anything to do with her current condition, or so she claimed. That was probably caused by a blood clot related to the extreme stress of visiting the Vet’s office combined with her heart condition, and nothing could really be done about it, I was told. This did not ring true. It didn’t seem likely to me, but hey...I’m not a Vet, what the heck do I know? I waited for a day or two, and when Ceecee did not improve, I called the office again, this time asking to speak with the head of the practice, a man who has been treating my animals for thirty years, and for whom I have the utmost respect.
He made arrangements with me to come, accompanied by a technician, to the house, so as not to further stress poor Ceecee. At this point, she had been hiding under a bed for two days, not eating, drinking water or using the litter box.
The house call resulted in a diagnosis of Horner’s or Haw’s syndrome which, as far as I understand it, is a form of facial nerve damage. It can be caused by many things, one of which is ear trauma. No one has admitted responsibility, but I believe that she was injured, either while being restrained during the ear cleaning, or by the cleaning itself, at the Vet’s office. She may or may not recover. She is after all, thirteen years old: a “geriatric” cat, by any standard. Still, I’m sad and angry. I feel guilty, like I have somehow betrayed Ceecee. She was okay before I left her in the care of supposed animal experts. I never asked that her ears be cleaned. She implicitly trusts me not to do anything to cause harm to her, and I took her to a place and gave her to people who did just that. I feel betrayed, too.
But, I know things happen. I don’t think anyone meant to hurt her. I have to believe that they had the best of intentions, and would go back and do things differently, if they could.
She has improved a lot since that first day. She is not giving up, so I’m not either. If I thought she was ready to check out I would let her go, but she has rallied. She’s walking better and has started to eat again. I spoon feed her several times a day with watered down canned food so she doesn’t become dehydrated. She has been too disoriented and unsteady on her feet to use the litter box, so she has been creeping silently over to a corner of my bedroom in the middle of the night and relieving herself. This wouldn’t be so upsetting to me if it were not new, expensive wool carpeting. Thank goodness for Bissel and Febreze.
People who don’t understand say things like, “Why don’t you put her to sleep?” or they make motions, as if they are pushing a hypodermic into their arm, while looking at me with raised eyebrows. They don't get it - why would I put up with such inconvenience?
I don’t hold it against them. I forgive them, because they know not what they do. These are simply people who have never known the grace and privilege of truly loving and being loved by an animal.