Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Tale of Two Bad Kittens

This is nothing more than a little video tribute to the friend who sent the wonderful 'feeding station' that solved an ongoing problem.

Below, a little video I made about the Kittens' first Christmas.

Neither have any particular artistic merit. Like a proud parent who captures images of a child in order to preserve that period in the life of a loved one, these videos were made primarily to remind me of the kittenhood of Ashleigh Attila and Marmee, aka 'Beauty'.

The Cats of Cadiz

When I visited Pompeii, it was the domain of a colony of wild dogs. They were 'wild' only in the sense of being feral. They exhibited no trace of hostility but it was a very large colony and one couldn't find any area in the ruins without one or two dogs and sometimes more. I do not know if people really are divided between cat lovers and dog lovers. There are many who love both equally. I definitely find cats more to my taste and therefore was delighted to find a colony of cats inhabiting the rocky beach at Cadiz.

They may have been feral, but they definitely depended on human servants for their sustenance. Small bowls filled with food and fresh water were placed in numerous niches in the rocks, almost like offerings to household gods. It reminded me of the extraordinary position cats have occupied throughout history, often either revered as gods or messengers of the gods or feared and persecuted as agents of evil. Dogs in general have not suffered from the same bias, although their Wolf cousins have attracted strong prejudice and the same kind of powerful mystique as cats.

Many animal lovers sense a relationship of some kind between their animals and the Divine. A close friend of mine confessed once that he believed one of his cats actually communicated with the otherworld regularly and referred to him as his Shaman. I have felt the same on occasion. How often has a cat's attention been held by something invisible to its owner? Even their ability to invent games using the unlikeliest objects sets them apart from the ordinary. A cat never loses the ability to experience childlike wonder and excitement. In many ancient cultures, gods were depicted as having the same ability.

For the most part, the natives of Cadiz probably leave food and water for the wild cats of the beach simply out of kindness but I would imagine there may be an old tradition somewhere linking good fortune to their presence at the shore...

Injections causing Malignant Tumours in Cats


A few years ago, a mother cat and her son, both jet black, had been abandoned by some one in the neighbourhood and had been reduced to skeletal proportions by their new lifestyle before I discovered them and began to leave food for them outside. For two months, they would eat only if I returned first to the house. It was only in the third month that I was able to stay nearby to watch them eat. A few months after that, I was able to persuade them to come into the house to eat and rest. By then, the mother was pregnant again.

When she was ready to have her kittens, I made a place for her in the house. The new litter was born inside the house and I found homes for all but one. That kitten become our pet, Lionheart. A home was found for the mother as well. Osiris, her eldest son, remained feral and although he would allow me to hold him and pet him, he would not stay inside the house. He would become increasingly distressed if, even in the worst weather, I tried to keep him inside.

Osiris was an uncommonly beautiful black cat with wide green eyes. I loved him dearly and wished that I could persuade him to stay in the house. He had a wild spirit, though, and although he loved to be held and even combed, he always insisted on making his escape after an hour or two.

He was hit by a car one morning at dawn. I grieved for him terribly and still miss him.

This morning, I found a cat outside napping in a nest of leaves. Some one in the neighbourhood owns this cat but allows him to roam outside. Although he does not have Osiris' extraordinary beauty, there is something about him that leads me to suspect that he may be Osiris' son or even grandson. It makes me happy to think of Osiris living on in his progeny, despite the fact that it is 'politically incorrect' to some extent.

This leads me to a danger to cats that can be as fatal as any car collision and can be caused by an act performed in the mistaken belief that it actually is protecting the animal against harm.

In 1991, a discovery was made to the effect that two common feline vaccines actually were responsible for the development of malignant tumours at the site of vaccination. These tumours, called 'fibrosarcomas' were linked to the vaccines for rabies and feline leukemia.

A task force formed to study the problem and make recommendations suggested that the leukemia vaccine should be administered SOLELY to cats who spent time outdoors. The rabies vaccine obviously should be administered only as absolutely required by law.

In any situation, both vaccines never should be given more than once every three years.

Finally, veterinarians were urged to change the site of injection from a site between the shoulder blades to one in the left rear leg near the ankle. The reason for this is that, should a malignant tumour develop at the site, any tumour between the shoulder blades is virtually impossible to remove. In the case of a tumour in the rear leg, amputation of the leg, however undesirable, could save the animal's life.

A paper published in February 2009 by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association indicated that many veterinarians have ignored the recommendations of the task force. Not only have they continued to give these injections too frequently, they have not changed the site of the injection. Consequently, a significant number of cats have developed malignant tumours at an injection site between the shoulder blades.

As a cat lover, I believe it is vital to educate cat owners as to the dangers inherent in this practice. If the professional veterinarian refuses to educate himself/herself as to the risks these injection practices poses, the owner of the cat must be aware of the situation and insist either that the veterinarian not give the leukemia injection if the cat is an indoor pet or if the animal roams outdoors, give the injection only once every three years and use a rear leg for the site rather than placing it between the shoulder blades at an inoperable site.

Cleanliness, Godliness and Cats

There is an old proverb that most children probably learn to hate to the effect that 'Cleanliness is next to Godliness'. Cats, once worshipped as gods in more than one ancient culture certainly are devoted to Cleanliness far more than humans ever have been even in their 'wild' state.

Cats are not entirely content if they are not clean. Furthermore, they prefer a clean environment. That is why a cat can be trained quite easily usually to use a litter box. Even cats who are not 'litter-trained' will attempt often to cover their messes. Some may argue that this is not so much an example of cleanliness as it is concealment of the cat's presence from potential enemies. The habit of covering any mess is only one example of a cat's fastidious nature.

Contrary to popular belief, cats actually love to be bathed once they have learned to accept water as a familiar medium. If they trust the person who is giving the bath and are familiar with the sensation of being bathed, they actually can learn to enjoy the ritual. They definitely like the result.

When a cat 'scratches' a post or any wooden object, the cat does not sharpen his/her nails as much as he/she grooms the nails by performing this action. Dead nail is removed when a cat scratches a post. Cats need nail grooming and again, once a cat is familiar with the process and learns to trust the implement, a cat will be happy to have his/her nails clipped by an owner. The best way to do this, in my experience is by massaging the cat's paws. Rub the centre of the ball of the paw and a cat will stretch contentedly, responding positively to the massage. Once a cat becomes familiar with this ritual, the clippers can be introduced and you will find it is not that difficult to clip the nails. As when clipping the nails of a child, however, one must be alert and careful not to cut the nail to the quick.

More essential than bathing or nail grooming, however is the ritual of combing. A healthy, contented cat will spend hours washing himself/herself and any feline companions. When a cat owner combs a cat, he/she is entering into the cat community in a ritual that is an essential part of a cat's life.

A cat will groom another cat's fur as an act of friendship and love. When an owner combs a cat, this is recognised more as an act of love than any verbal dialogue ever would be.

Even short-haired cats appreciate combing, but for a long-haired cat, it is absolutely essential. Cats may be skittish at first at the touch of the comb, but they quickly learn to enjoy the ritual and it is a far more effective way of removing dead fur and stimulating the scalp than any other. When an owner combs his/her cat regularly, the cat will not swallow hairballs as all the dead fur will have been removed previously by the comb.

Some cat owners are reduced to the measure of taking a cat to a veterinarian to be shaved once or twice each year after the cat's fur becomes so matted as to be intolerable. This should not be necessary in the case of even a cat with extremely long hair. Combing the cat twice weekly would prevent fur from becoming matted and both owner and cat would benefit from the ritual.

The cat may benefit physically from regular combing, but the owner can benefit emotionally and spiritually. Brushing or combing hair is an ancient rite of magic. The rhythm of the brush or comb is conducive to meditation and alters breathing patterns and spiritual focus. It reduces stress and forces the individual to detach himself/herself from all other aspects of life. When this ritual is conducted with a beloved pet, it benefits both the animal and the owner. Moreover, it is an act of bonding and the animal will respond accordingly.

Adult cats who never have been combed can learn to enjoy it as much as a cat who has been combed from infancy. I have been able to persuade feral cats to accept a combing and to learn to relax with the comb. I actually prefer a 'flea comb' to other brushes and combs because it has very fine teeth and can be used to undo the worst 'knots' in a cat's pelt. When I find a knot, I then use the corner of the comb to tease it out gently and slowly. It is very effective.

Initially, I had intended to write only about the sense of peace that descends upon me whenever I comb a cat, but when I realised how many cat owners and cat lovers never have combed their cats, I decided to write about combing and grooming in general.

I have had more than one cat who has reciprocated. I find it quite charming when a cat decides to groom me. To me, that is the final proof that, to a cat, grooming is an act of love and acceptance and one that is an essential part of his/her existence.

I do not believe that human beings necessarily are superior to other forms of life. Although we may be more technologically advanced in certain areas, in other areas we can learn from animals as much as our ancestors did. The argument that animals act only according to instinct is as fallacious as any contention that human acts are governed solely by instinct. On the other hand, the instinctive behaviour patterns of our animals can be applied to our own lives to improve both our understanding of our pets and our own spiritual standard of living.

As far as I am concerned, it is obvious that cats are superior to us in their ability to relax. A cat can immerse himself or herself wholly in the act of contemplation or meditation yet still be alert for danger on another fundamental level. Contemporary society is fast-paced and many people find it difficult to relax. In fact, the inability to relax is at the heart of many psychological and physical disorders. The simple ritual of combing a pet can provide a key to relaxation. In ancient societies, individuals actually would study animal behaviour as a spiritual exercise. Although our urbanised life makes it difficult for us to interact with many animals firsthand, household pets still provide a link with the animal kingdom that should not be underestimated or ignored.

Feeding a pet is only one aspect of care and attention. As when raising a child, it is not sufficient simply to provide shelter and physical sustenance. In the role of parent, owner or caretaker, one can receive knowledge and love as well as give it. The joys of having a pet, as much as the joys of having a child, far outweigh the burdens.

As with Human Beings, Fear and Ignorance is the Enemy

For decades, FIV or 'Feline AIDS' has been one of the most frightening threats to any cat owner. In fact, cat lovers with more than one cat in the household often have rejected a prospective housemate if the cat tested FIV positive. There are many cases, sadly, where cats actually have been killed when they tested positive, for fear that they would infect others.

Fear and ignorance often are our worst enemies. Even compassionate individuals, if infected with fear, can make inhumane decisions.

I wonder how many cat lovers actually understand that the risks of infection to other cats, even where one cat in the household is FIV positive, are minimal. There is a veterinarian who attempts to combat all the misinformation and widespread prejudice that too often is seen even in the most devoted animal lovers.

This veterinarian posted the following information in response to a question from a cat owner who had two cats who had lived together since birth. One of them was FIV positive and the other was free of the virus. She asked if they should be separated.

'FIV, short for feline immunodeficiency virus, causes feline AIDS. FIV is genetically related to the human AIDS virus. I am aware of no evidence that FIV poses a risk to humans living with infected cats.
FIV causes suppression of infected cats’ immune systems. This can lead to intractable infections or certain types of tumours. However, most FIV-infected cats live years (decades in many cases) without suffering any complications from infection.
FIV is not highly contagious. It is spread by serious fighting where an infected cat bites another cat severely enough to break the skin. This sort of fighting is very rare in cats who live together. Cats who reside together in a house are often like siblings growing up in a family. They may not live in perfect harmony all the time, and there may be rows but they rarely inflict serious injuries on one another.

'None of my FIV-positive patients has spread the virus to non-infected housemates. Since your cats get along well, it is very unlikely that the virus will spread.
Of course, it is still possible. A serious fight could lead to infection of your currently FIV-negative cat. You will have to decide on your own whether such a fight is probable. But if your cats are like ones I have known, the disease won’t spread.

FIV does not frequently spread among cats that live in the same household. Cats that cohabitate rarely engage in the aggressive, severe form of fighting that spreads the virus.'

I believe this is important information in view of the widespread misconceptions about FIV. How many poor animals have been rejected by prospective owners because they tested positive for FIV?

The fact of the matter is that, even when a cat tests positive for FIV, he/she can live as long as a cat who is free of the disease, especially with an owner who provides the best of care. Truly a little knowledge can be more dangerous than total ignorance. As Thoreau remarked: 'A man is wise with the wisdom of his time only, and ignorant with its ignorance.' Public 'knowledge' of FIV was based more on hysterical fear than actual facts. Sadly, once again, many in the medical profession who ought to know better than the general public, too often simply repeat the general misconceptions instead of performing exhaustive research on any subject. When one is urged to find out if a cat tests FIV positive, it usually is with the corollary in mind that should the animal test positive, one should reject the poor creature in favour of one who tests negative.

We are victims of our own hearts and one of our worst fears is the fear of loss. It is not from innate cruelty but from the fear that a cat with FIV will die sooner that such an animal is rejected. A truly enlightened and unselfish individual would choose a cat who tests positive... but how many of us would or could go that far? Even so, it is important to know that cats who are FIV positive need not be separated from their companions and that the chances of infection are minimal when they live in the same household and are not in the wilds fighting for territory.