Saturday, May 2, 2015

Herky won't let me be

The lady was in the cat side of reception, looking through the window at my receptionist. She'd never been in before, and I could tell she was checking us out, to see if we were worthy of her cat and her business. That's fine. I do the same thing when I first visit a dentist or even a barber. You want to be comfortable in such an environment.

I was on our side of the counter, leaning and essentially worthless for the moment, although the staff is polite enough not to ever say that. The lady seemed a bit, oh I don't know, hostile is too harsh but she clearly wasn't just blending in as I've come to expect from my clients. Then she saw the cat. That was the deal breaker.

Jaws was lying on the counter, next to Karen, our receptionist and the best friend of Jaws.

The back story. Jaws came to us as an emaciated, flea infested, filthy orange and white striped eight week old kitten. She was hungry, and she demonstrated that with her rather prodigious appetite. She attacked food. So we named her, Jaws.

Jaws was, oh hell let's be honest, fat. And she hung out with Karen, for when the office was closed for lunch and Karen was eating said lunch at her desk, there was this other plate where some of Karen's lunch showed up in front of Jaws every day. The two were inseparable during business hours. I had no problem with this, and my loyal clients loved to see Jaws on the counter, digesting part of Karen's lunch.

Anyway, this lady saw Jaws on the counter next to Karen, and she just about screamed. She was incensed. She was outraged.

“There's a cat on your counter.”

Ah, yep. That's Jaws. She lives here.

“That's unsanitary. I'd never bring my cat into a place like this!”

Oh, well that's fine. Maybe you should just leave and go find some other veterinary hospital where the resident cat doesn't hang out on the counter. Because you will never be happy here.

Good luck with that. In my experience, most veterinary hospitals have what we call hospital cats. Such cats are generally fat, and they hang out on counters or wherever they damn well please, and the people working in those veterinary hospitals love those cats far better than they like BITCHY OLD SELF IMPORTANT WITCHES!

Oh, I'm sorry. Was I shouting?

In my experience, most veterinary hospitals, filled with people who care about their clients' animals, always have a few of their own beloved companions hanging about the place. It's just me talking here, but I wouldn't be comfortable in a veterinary hospital that didn't have a few, uh, normal challenged, animals living there.

Normal challenged?

Yeah, I usually say that you have to be defective to work in a veterinary hospital, but my wife takes some offense at that, and says for the animals at least, I should use the term, “normal challenged” when speaking about the cats and dogs living in veterinary hospitals.

Ya see, most of the animals living in veterinary hospitals have had issues before they came to live with us. Often they are missing various parts, a toe, a leg, a tail, an eye. They often have been abandoned by uncaring owners, or simply adopted by the staff when somebody wanted them dead because they were missing a part or were something less than perfect. They say the fastest route to insanity is to care more for the animals than the people who own them, and that may be true. But, it certainly is the fastest route to accumulating a few more hospital cats.

I look back on our hospital cats, to Moocher, Sam, Momma Tom, Kung Foo, Spaz, Jaws, Mohamed Ali, One Eyed Jack, Quirk, Lefty, Jill, and Herky and I wouldn't trade one of them for the opportunity to serve a woman who couldn't stomach seeing one of ours in our own hospital.

I was thinking about Herky today. He came to us as Herkimer, a ten month old tomcat who got into one too many cat fights, and sustained an abscess in the middle of his back, the consequence of a bite wound. We sent home the usual antibiotics, and all would have been fine except that this bite wound had penetrated to the bone of one vertebrae. The owner noticed that Herkimer was paralyzed at some point and after letting this steep for far too long, and when it didn't “get better by itself”, finally rushed him in. Not surprisingly, he was still paralyzed. Another course of antibiotics actually returned him to normal, but when the owner didn't follow up as we had suggested with further treatment with more antibiotics, he went down in the rear again. When they finally brought him back in, his rear legs were history. They couldn't have cared less.

So Herky came to live with us, and for the next twelve years he slid around our hospital with two good front legs and a back end that came along for the ride. He couldn't feel anything behind his last rib, so he bathed to there and stopped. He built up some fine callouses on the right side and slid along the smooth concrete floors as if they were designed for him. We tried to build him a cart, but he kept spinning out in the corners, so we just let him do as he preferred.

Some clients saw Herky sliding along the floor, and they felt sorry for him. They'd ask if we were going to put him to sleep because he was suffering, and then he'd slide up to them and rub his chin against their ankles purring until they'd pet him, and then it would dawn on them that he was actually a pretty happy cat. And he was.

What I remember best about Herky was his wisdom. From time to time I'd have one of those days when I'd rather be the janitor in a porno theater than to continue this nonsense of being a veterinarian. I'd wander back to the kennel to Herky's home expecting some sympathy, some understanding from a paralyzed cat when I was having a bad day.....and he would bite me. It kinds boiled down to one simple thing. Herky wouldn't listen unless I brought a complaint with some legitimacy. If I was just whining, he'd bite me. Come to me when you've got something important to say, and I'll listen. Smart cat. I learned much from him.

Due to his medical issues, Herky couldn't pee on his own. We needed to hold him over the sink and with gentle finger pressure, we'd empty his bladder each day. When we let him out of his cage each morning, he'd slide around on the floor until he moved his bowels, and that took care of that, most days. But each and every day, somebody needed to express Herky's bladder. On Sunday, that was my job.

Before doing anything fun on Sunday, my only day off, so to speak, I would first have to drive over the hill to the clinic, and squeeze Herky. It became something of a routine. Once I'd done that, my day off could begin. For twelve years.

Right now, we are remodeling our home, because when we finally sell the practice and we can retire, the house will also be sold and we will move to paradise for the remaining days of our lives. So right now, our cats are living at the clinic. So that means, on the weekends I get to drive over the hill to the clinic and make sure the litter pans are clean and the cats have fresh water and food. I was doing just that today, and while I enjoyed the scenery on the drive, it dawned on me that as many times as I have done this, this drive over the hill to the clinic to care for the cats at the clinic on the weekends when normal people are simply enjoying their weekends away from their work, I would soon no longer need to fulfill this duty..... and that brought a tear to my eyes.


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  3. Our vet has a collection of friendly office cats and a nice basket on the counter for a cat nap. The only inconvenience I experience from these cats is that I have large hunting type dogs (Borzoi) that are not cat safe, so the "suicide cat behavior" (when a cat decides it wants to run against the legs of one of my Borzoi) that the office cats occasionally exhibit can cause a bit of a dog control problem for me. The office staff is pretty careful to get the cats wandering around the waiting area into the back if I ask but a couple of times I have had to wait outside the front door until someone comes in from the back and notices me, the eager Borzoi and the cat inside. Generally I can make a emergency muzzle for the dog out of the leash if a cat appears unexpectedly but it can be a problem if I have multiple dogs with me that day. Usually the cat will move away if I wave my free hand at it and make "shooing" sounds. So I do not resent the office cats but they can cause me some stress as a client. So far none of them have been grabbed by my dogs.