Featured above is Cow Cow, who arrived at the cat rescue I am the director of with a broken leg as a result of being hit with a bat and shot at repeatedly by a group of children. We rescued him from the unforgiving streets and got him the leg amputation that he desperately needed to rid him of the infection. In addition, we got him a full mouth dental cleaning and blood panel. Since the infection resulted in some elevated levels, we got his blood values to where they needed to be. He was one of our most high profile cases due to animal neglect being so prodigious in our town. We continuously find bullets and pellets in cats in radiographs taken for non-related reasons.
Again, you can see some of the abuse cases I love to work within this article–cats struck down in their prime by abuse or neglect. I run a non-profit cat rescue that focuses on rehabilitating cats with special needs or medical conditions that are potentially life-threatening. The rescue I am the director of was founded on the belief that every cat matters and deserves a second chance to shine, regardless of where they come from or their odds of surviving necessary treatment. I only had a 5% chance of surviving when I was born because my mom had thyroid cancer; my survival taught me never to give up hope or to believe in failure. Every individual in that room, except my mom, was giving up and throwing in the towel. Given the events of that day, I vowed never to give up on any animal that needed my help. The rescue started small in a basement, then evolved into a full-fledged operation in just one year, which was exciting and busy.
Pictured above is one of the first abuse and neglect cases I worked on rehabbing when I started in the animal care field, about 9 years ago. The cat was caught in an illegal trap in the middle of a public park, so I named him Tripod. Tripod was adopted very quickly to a lady who had a prosthetic leg. The goals we have crushed in 2019 and the lives we have saved are a culmination of every skill I have ever learned in my vet tech career and at the Northeast Missouri Humane Society, where I worked as the cat room supervisor for seven years before starting the rescue. Every single cat I have worked with during my career has taught our entire team at rescue and the Humane Society something new and valuable.
Our mission at the cat rescue is to help transform every cat into the best version of himself prior to adoption. This is the goal for every single cat we take in, not just the cats that come in with illness or an injury. Perhaps that is the reason I love rehabilitating cats so much. This task encourages me to learn every trait, characteristic, and quirk about the cats in my care so that I can provide them with the optimal care they deserve.
I firmly believe that if you do not think the next cat you meet is worth saving, then you are just not looking hard enough. Every life matters. The first task of my day is to perform a quick check of the cats in my care. I ask myself what I can do that day to improve their emotional, physical, and mental well-being during their stay at the rescue. We do this by tailoring our enrichment plans to each individual. We utilize microchips from HomeAgain that have a built-in temperature sensor that we can scan with our handheld microchip reader. A one-second scan of the microchip will tell us their current temperature so we can know if they are not doing well.
The following tricks and tips will help you take care of virtually any cat recovering from illness or injury in your facility or house if you are providing foster care. Many of the tips I have are cheap and easy to put into motion. The most common injury we see at is cats hit by cars, which often result in a leg amputation, femoral head removal, or eight weeks cage rest so the pelvis can heal.
Make The Cat Feel Comfortable
You never want to forget the basics as you learn and evolve in the animal rescue field, which is easy to do as you become medically trained or more familiar with advanced medical procedures. The number one way I have found to make cats eat, drink, and recover from surgery or illness is to make them feel comfortable and taken care of. Make them the center of your world because you are the center of their world at this time in their lives when they are not feeling one hundred percent.
Ensuring that a cat is feeling good enough to perform daily activities can include a variety of different techniques. I had one cat that needed to be spoon fed, one cat that needed a flat bowl to avoid tilting her neck too much to eat, and another cat that needed her food blended because she only felt comfortable licking food. There is no one answer or magic bullet for getting a cat to eat, just experimenting and learning about the cat as you work with her on an individual level.
Observing the habits of each individual cat is absolutely necessary during the first 24 to 48 hours because almost no cat presents the same way. There will be little tweaks you will need to make along the way. A few cats may prefer a heated bed or an orthopedic bed, while other cats would strongly benefit from a flat surface with no padding. A cat with a pelvic fracture or broken leg may require a custom cut litter box for easy entry.
Stimulate Them And Get Them Moving
A cat that is inactive and not moving is a cat that will stay inactive and not moving, in most instances, because he has either given up or is not feeling well enough to make the first few steps toward recovery himself. It sounds simple, but you need to help stimulate him if there is no improvement in his activity to avoid prolonged inertia, which can lead to bedsores and delayed recovery.
There are cases that require prolonged recovery, like a broken pelvis, but other times you need to get the cat moving. Even when I have a cat with a fractured pelvis, I will gradually start some passive range of motion exercises. I want to help move her so she is not stuck in one position all day long because that can be painful and boring. I have found that simply cleaning her up with a cat wipe if she is sick or bathing her, paired with providing a bowl of stinky food, can make an astronomical difference. I routinely offer field trips to the cats that are going through rehabilitation, which means that I carry them around and baby them throughout the day, which I find boosts morale.
This field trip strategy can be compared to the motivation you feel when moving from one room in which you have been doing a single task for hours upon hours to another room to work on something else. Change of scenery, change of lighting, and movement can ignite your body to start moving and working again. Think of it as a jump start to action. Starting something is very hard, but once you have started, it can only get easier in most instances.
Personal Attention Can Be Game-Changing
Never underestimate the power of personal attention and the involvement you can have in the recovery of a sick or injured cat. I had four kittens with upper respiratory infections that simply would not eat in their cage. I tried five different food types and tuna with no luck. Washing them with a wet rag, then moving the four kittens to my desk, where I would give them all individual attention while they ate stinky, canned food, made all of the difference in the world. I had a soft cover on the desk for them to sit on and some harp music on a Pet Acoustics device. I kept all of the kittens with me that day while I worked.
Taking just five minutes out of your day to clean up and sit down with your sick cats or surgical cases can inspire them to move, eat, drink, and perform daily functions. Even if you are extremely busy, like I am, finding those five minutes can literally mean the difference between success and failure. You may find that they need you for grooming assistance since they might not feel good enough to clean themselves from day to day. I have attributed one-on-one attention as being responsible for accelerating treatment plans and improving success rates in medical intervention plans.
Enrichment Is Key During Rehabilitation
It can be easy to overlook the use of enrichment during rehabilitation because the cats are often not feeling well, or they are not at their prime. The strategy is to switch up your enrichment and behavior modification strategy to fit the situation rather than removing it altogether, which is going to be counterproductive for cutting stress. Think outside of the box when you design your enrichment plan for the medical cases.
Pictured above is Natasha, our cat who recently suffered a broken pelvis. I used a laser light through a Petcube camera so she could catch it without moving her front legs, only her paw. In addition, I have a Wyze camera setup that I can enable multiple devices to view the cat from so multiple people can keep an eye on the cat. The Wyze camera has the ability to notify me of motion in areas of the cage that I specify. I can have the Wyze camera notify me that the cat is eating/drinking or using the litterbox depending on where the camera detects the cat. I had the television on with birds, which moved and made noises for her to watch, or fish that moved around constantly in a bowl. I simply hooked up a Roku streaming stick to the television in the rehabilitation suite. No cat wants to look at a blank wall for hours and hours.
I gave Natasha a silvervine stick and some catnip she could smell while she was immobile, but she still rolled around and had a grand time. The smell of silvervine is tantamount to the power of catnip to elicit a reaction or even stronger. We cannot forget about enrichment for those patients who cannot move. With your help, they can engage in many of the same activities as a cat that is not injured. As she regained some strength, I introduced a catnip kicker to get her to kick it, which provided a two-pronged benefit. Natasha was having fun kicking and smelling the catnip toy, but she was also working on a range of motion for her back legs, where her pelvis was healing.
The second cat we are currently working on rehabilitating during the creation of this article is Whiskers who was hit by a car. The collision left the cat with a four-inch strip of necrosis which required multiple surgeries to completely debride all of the necrotic tissue. He is currently on cage rest for 14 days while he recovers from that incident. I counted exactly thirty stitches to keep the wound closed without the possibility of it opening back up. He has to wear a modified twelve-month onesie at night to keep him from licking the incision. We switched his cat litter from the clumping type to the pelleted type to avoid granules getting into the incision site.
The third cat we are working on goes by the name of Gimpy. Gimpy is a Maine Coon mix who was attacked by an unknown predator which led to his rescue by animal control. The attack left his foot swollen and horribly infected which is when we rushed in to resume his care from that point. We have had to change his bandage three times a week with a sugar bandage after cleaning the wound out with chlorhexidine. He is quickly healing so the complete treatment plan is expected to take a few more weeks past the conclusion of this article.
Keep Pain Minimal During Recovery
You always need to balance the benefit of drug therapy or medical intervention with the stress that it could induce in both the short term and the long term. Adopting a fear-free approach to rehabilitation is something I have prioritized in the last few years because the mental health of a cat is just as important as his physical health is. One example of this approach is taking longer to give subcutaneous fluids with a smaller needle rather than using a larger needle to cut time. Pain can be emotionally and physically damaging. Another example is crushing a large pill in baby food and spoon-feeding it to a cat instead of forcing it down his throat.
It may not be possible in every situation to make a medical intervention fear-free. The idea of fear-free is to always think about the way you implement a treatment plan by constantly evaluating it in terms of safety, benefit, and stress it can induce in that patient. We make every effort to implement fear-free techniques I learned online such as implementing butterfly catheters for fluids or blood draws in kittens, giving canned food on a spoon while giving fluids to build positive associations and more.
Actually, introducing more medications can help with recovery and the pain that recovery can bring, especially if the injury is fresh. Gabapentin, for instance, can really help ease the pain as it has sedative properties. Gabapentin can also be given to calm down a patient one to two hours before a medical procedure, such as blood draws, fluid administration, and transport to the veterinarian. This is one of the areas of rehabilitation that should not be cut out in order to save money.
I just recently had a cat that was sent home with insufficient pain medications from a different veterinarian than our primary veterinarian. I could tell she was in pain due to hissing, growling, isolation, and refusal to eat. She was just hit the previous day by a car in the country. A simple trip to our primary veterinarian and an upgrade to stronger pain medications fixed the problem within hours. Having the skills of swift recognition and response is crucial in these situations.
Other Miscellaneous Ideas
I have found it beneficial to weigh the food and water for cats that I am not spoon feeding or assist feeding. You can keep track of the exact amount of food and water they are consuming in order to calculate the amount you need to supplement them with in terms of calories or milliliters. You may find that they are taking in the proper amount of calories. In other instances, you may find that is not the case.
Having a webcam or another similar device is beneficial for you when you are not present at the facility. This will allow you to monitor the cat’s daily habits as a whole and grant you the ability to swoop in and intervene if anything goes awry after hours. I had two cameras on the cat, which would send me an alert if it detected motion. I entrusted three people to watch the webcam at varying times.
Heating up her food and her fluids prior to treating your injured or sick cat can help her accept it more willingly in the long run. I use water bowls that have built-in measurements to tell me how much she has consumed day to day. I routinely weigh my bowls to confirm this, if I have any doubt. I can do a 30x fast forward of video clips saved on my computer from my cameras, just to make sure the water was not spilled instead of being consumed. The values that I record daily can help me recognize if we are backpedaling so I can make the decision to assist feed or revise the rehabilitation plan. Cats that are not eating or drinking will often be given fluids and a supplement like Pet Tinic to combat anemia, low blood sugar, and poor appetite.
Moving a severely injured cat from place to place can two people, so you do not put too much pressure on any one spot. I use a cover like a cot to move the cat into a top-loading pet carrier. Alternatively, I take the top of the pet carrier off and reassemble the pet carrier after the cat is placed into it in a comfortable position. This minimizes the possibility of further injury. A Feliway towel can be draped across the carrier to decrease stress, or Feliway can be sprayed in the pet carrier. Gabapentin, administered 1 or 2 hours prior to transport, can help with the pain.
I have had a few cats that strongly benefited from splints, laser therapy, and underwater treadmill walking, making spectacular recoveries. Having a variety of different options to choose from when it comes to recovery for the cats in your care is amazing in the event you need to add to your rehabilitation plan.
One important tip that you cannot afford to forget is that you should always use a reliable and knowledgeable veterinarian whom you have met personally, instead of trying to find one at the last minute for a severe injury. You do not want to be trying to find a new veterinarian when you are dealing with an emergency or a traumatic injury. I have an orthopedic veterinarian, who also happens to be my primary vet, who is very thorough in his work. I have seen a ton of variation in skill level when it applies to orthopedics, so I do not take any chances.
Hope: The Cat Who Could
Hope was a kitten who I admitted to the rescue in late July. A volunteer pulled up to the driveway for the rescue and told me about how the cat she had in the back of her vehicle was hit by a car several times in the middle of the highway. I could tell something bad was brewing because Hope could not walk without falling over and was convulsing in front of my eyes. We made the quick decision to transport her to our primary orthopedic veterinarian for a neurological and orthopedic evaluation.
Radiographs taken that day identified 4 separate pelvic fractures that appeared to be healing, which was some good news during this dark time. She had a serious catalog of problems that mounted against her very quickly, including fractures, neurological problems, and declining organ function. She was given less than a 10% chance to recover.
The prognosis was abysmal because any one of the problems that she was diagnosed with could be the reason for failure to thrive or dying while under the care of the veterinarian. Her full list of problems is listed below in no specific order:
- No tail function
- Could not walk
- Could not eat/drink
- 4 pelvic fractures
- Completely blind
- Constant seizures
Hope had absolutely no function of her limbs and was basically comatose for the entire first day at the veterinary office. She had to be spoon fed by the veterinary technicians and given intravenous fluids for 3 days, along with a heavy regimen of steroids and pain medications. It took her about one week to regain the ability to move and use her bowels, one month to regain function of her tail, and two months to recover from being blind. She had a femoral head removal surgery so she would not become arthritic later in life.
One lesson I learned from Hope is that we should never give up cheering for the underdog–or cat–and that we should not give up until it truly is over. Weird things happen every single day, miracles happen all over the world, so it is not fair to count out a cat just because she seems like she is on death’s door. Some cats are resilient and, when you least expect it, will crush the odds like there was never any doubt about recovery. The other lesson is that you never know what is going to come through that front door of the cat rescue and in what condition they will come in.
I am sure other rescuers have seen the same type of miraculous recoveries happen right before their very eyes. At the end of every day, I want to lock the door to the rescue, knowing that we did everything we could possibly do for each cat in our care–that we do not have regrets because we did not push hard enough or give them long enough to recover. I am happy that both of our veterinary offices share this mindset and that they have the medical prowess to save these more severe cases. I say this because I have seen veterinarians that simply give up at the first sign of danger and no longer wish to proceed because of a bad prognosis.
We named this cat Hope for a reason–definitely not to give up quickly or to euthanize her on the first day so we could take an easy way out. None of this success would have been possible without the volunteer, the community, our very skilled veterinary team, and the grant from the Ian Somerhalder Foundation. We even enlisted an ophthalmologist to help us with her blindness. If it is the only thing you take away from this blog: never give up on a cat, even though the odds seem very much against you, because the next day the cat may just surprise you.
Hope was adopted to the perfect home with an autistic child after she regained 100% function of her tail, bowels, and eyesight. A video I was sent by the adopter shows she is playing up a storm now with all of her brand new toys in her new home. I hear that Hope really loves her canned food, which is music to my ears because she deserves to be spoiled after the pain she had to endure.
Lucas: A Cat With Septicemia
Lucas was a cat that presented to the rescue with a white blood cell count of over 60,000 and a glucose level of 10. Lucas should have been dead at that time because he also had a hole with maggots on his left front leg. Lucas is a perfect example of a rehabilitation case involving not bones, but something far more profound and sinister. We rehabilitate everything from a broken heart to an infected eye. It can take a long time for a cat to trust hums again if they were very mistreated from an early age. I found Lucas in an animal control facility, where he was literally dying with no one even giving him a second glance.
I rushed Lucas to our primary veterinarian because he was caught up in a total downward spiral at our rescue for the entire morning and wasn’t getting better. We ran a complete blood panel at the request of the veterinarian so that we could find out what was going on in his frail body. The veterinarian came to the conclusion that Lucas had septicemia of the bloodstream, which is extremely fatal if not treated immediately and aggressively.
Lucas was hospitalized for a week on intravenous fluids, tube feeding, and constant monitoring. He needed to be completely bathed four times a day for constant diarrhea caused by the septicemia. Even after being discharged from the hospital, we had to bathe Lucas and give him fluids for two more weeks, in addition to about 5 medications that had to be given by mouth. It was very touch and go for a long time, and the technicians even called to check up on him daily.
Lucas only had a 10% chance of surviving, so I was more than ecstatic he was still in the world of the living at this point, even if his situation did seem dire. His recovery took approximately six weeks with ups and downs. His entire treatment cost $1800, which I paid out of my own pocket. Many people ask me the reason I pledged $1800, when I did not even have that much money to my name, for a cat with a 10% chance of surviving. I simply tell them that I only had a 5% chance of surviving when I was born since my mom had cancer.
Lucas was adopted about six months after a full recovery. He gained about 5 pounds from the time I found him and got him all patched up. I could not have found him a more perfect home. He is cherished like the perfect cat he is in that new home. The owner was just over the moon for this cat. Lucas even has his own Christmas stocking. It literally can make you cry tears of happiness when you catch up on previous adoptions.
Ozark: Leg Broken With Car Engine
Ozark was a 6-months-old cat that required pinning and rehabilitation of her back leg when a car engine was dropped on her leg in the middle of a mechanic shop. The rehabilitation took about 12 weeks because she was previously a very energetic cat. We had to combine Gabapentin and few other drugs to keep her calm so her leg would heal together correctly.
Autumn: Eye Infection Gone Wrong
Autumn was an 8-week-old kitten surrendered by a person who found the cat abandoned in a rental property. The kitten had a severe eye infection that our eye specialist thought would spread to her brain, so we had her eye removed. She is now the most playful cat in spite of that injury. A protective collar had to be worn, and a special ointment had to be applied for 14 days straight. A convenia antibiotic was given prior to her release from the hospital to help fight the overwhelming infection.
Aspen: Racoon Attack
Aspen was a three-year-old FIV positive cat who came to us with an incredible wound on the side of his face as a result of a raccoon attack. We had to treat him with antibiotics and pain medications for about two weeks in addition to the Penrose drain we had placed.
Dixie: Damage From Declawing
I had a cat surrendered to me personally that I adopted, named Dixie. She will bite you to draw blood because it was shown at a Paw Project specialist that her toes are in pain due to a declawing procedure that was performed before I got her. We are managing the pain and the hyperaesthesia she has with Gabapentin. It is very important that you let her know you are there before petting her, and she prefers to be pet when she is high off the ground.
She is a fantastic cat when you can pet her, but those moments are rare. I have recently gotten to the point where I can pet her for a minute without her retaliating, and I can pick her up when I need to, but she doesn’t like it. Declawing is slowly being banned across the world, just recently in a few local veterinary clinics and in Saint Louis. Read more about Dixie by clicking here.
Skye Blue – Cleft Palate, Broken Pelvis
Skye Blue came to us from a local kill shelter who was about to euthanize her due to what they thought was a broken leg. We pulled the cat from that shelter and transported her to our orthopedic specialist, who diagnosed her with a fractured pelvis in 3 spots, ringworm, roundworms, and a cleft palate. Nearly six months of care is what it took for us to have everything that was wrong with this cat fixed.
The cleft palate was actually diagnosed during her spay operation following her recovery from the multiple pelvis fractures purely by accident. Additionally, she tested positive for every upper respiratory infection including mycoplasma, bordetella, calicivirus, herpesvirus, and chlamydia which required an extensive treatment plan above and beyond the cleft palate repair. Skye Blue required blended up canned food for her during her recovery to ensure she would not bust open the incision by chewing too much. We adopted Skye Blue to a volunteer at the end of her treatment.
Orion – IBD And Cognitive Dysfunction
We pulled Orion from an animal control facility and was the first senior cat we ever admitted to our rescue. Orion was found locked up in a hot garage all by himself on the day that there was a heat advisory out. Orion was severely dehydrated, noticeably emaciated, anemic, hypoglycemic, and poorly cared for at the shelter. He was about five pounds underweight and quite lethargic. The shelter did not provide padding or a cover to help him with his arthritis.
We transported him straight to our veterinarian who diagnosed him with an upper respiratory infection, grade 3 dental disease, intestinal bowel disease, and a severe ear infection to top it all off. It shocked me that taking care of all his medical issues and stress ended up correcting his intestinal bowel disease, as evidenced by a repeat blood test. Orion was adopted to a family of four after his six-month-long rehabilitation.
Orion has cognitive dysfunction so he does not always have an easy time finding the box, especially since he has some arthritis too. The addition of several more litter boxes paired with nightlights in his new home has made a tremendous difference in his ability to find a box to eliminate in.
Starr And Upper Respiratory Infection
Starr was an eight-week-old kitten brought in with a litter of eight and their mother. All of the kittens were extremely ill with an upper respiratory infection with a secondary bacterial infection that resulted in open mouth breathing, lethargy, refusal to eat and hypoglycemia. We had to rush Starr, the smallest of her litter to the veterinarian to start intravenous fluids, heat therapy, oxygen and a few other medical procedures to save her life. We had a trusted foster parent watch her like a hawk for about three months to make sure she would grow properly and would not regress. Starr was adopted about four months after the last sign of disease which is how long it took to get her well. Starr was adopted out with a sister to help her remain healthy and happy for the rest of her life.
Miya – Frostbite And Underweight
Miss Miya came to our rescue as a temporary foster and is the epitome of a cat in the cold that requires a specialized cat rescue to help her out. Miya had severe frostbite to both of her ears as a result of the dangerously cold weather we had that previous week. Frostbite is excruciatingly painful and her ears had to be debrided to look like Mickey Mouse ears so that they could be saved. Her backbone and her ribs were prominent and easily palpable. I could feel some frostbite in her paws too which caused about 25 to 50% feeling loss in those feet, but they were not damaged in any other way.
Miya was frightened of literally everything in the beginning. She didn’t meow, purr or play. We utilized calming collars, composure cat treats, fluoxetine and Feliway diffusers to help calm her down. Miya exhibited no normal cat behaviors during the first month at our rescue. The only sound that she made was waffling sounds to tell you “I’m afraid, go away.” Nearly eight months is what it took between several people working with her to get her confident enough to act like a cat and display species-typical behavior. She did not use a litterbox for about two months because the feeling in her paws did not completely come back to her until winter was nearly over.
Miya is one of those cats that you have to go slow with and respect boundaries. She occupied the same room as the co-director of our cat rescue so she could get acclimated to living with humans. At first, she would attack you even when you were sleeping out of extreme fear which subsided as time went on. You still had to be careful not to put her over the threshold of what she felt comfortable with, but she got to the point where she was adoptable and we still get happy reports on the progress she is making in her new home.
Sir Hershey was a huge Ragdoll we pulled from an animal shelter about one hundred miles away from our facility. I was asked by a friend to pull him because we both believed that he was not being taken care of properly by the veterinarian on staff. I transported Sir Hershey from their facility to our veterinarian, where we uncovered a plethora of medical concerns and discrepancies. Sir Hershey was about eight years old, three years older than what the staff estimated him to be.
Sir Hershey (AKA: Gummy Bear) was being treated with eye ointment for months, and the veterinarian never questioned if it was working or not. His grooming needs were never considered during his stay. Sir Hershey was in extremely rough shape when we got him and would go on to require a full mouth extraction, entropion repair surgery, a complete shaving, and treatment for dry eye. A cat does not get as matted as Sir Hershey does overnight without serious neglect or the inability to scout out basic medical problems.
After about five months of recovery after his multiple surgeries, he was adopted into a home with four other Ragdoll cats where he could live the rest of his life without pain and suffering. The whole rehabilitation was heartbreaking because the notes also described his teeth as being perfect. The entropion was causing his eyelashes to cut into his cornea, and the dental pain was so significant that he would shoot to the ceiling when you touched in one of his teeth. I feel like the shelter system really let this cat down.
Taking care of the injured and sick can be stressful and include long hours which can often spill over into your personal life, bank account, and your heart. There are many cats we have saved that I did not include here, but they were all important to us. Rehabilitating a cat is overwhelming, but I would not trade it for the world. It is important that you have a written plan and strategy for any scenario, so you can delegate if you become overwhelmed.
Saving the most vulnerable cats is extremely rewarding when you see them go from nearly dying to transforming into the best version of themselves. The adoption date will serve as an important point in time when all of your hard work is finally worth it.
I want you to use the adoption day as a reminder of why you put so much work into your job as a rescuer. There will be cats that you lose along the way and times that you reconsider the work that you do. I have a book full of all the memories that I made with each and every sick or injured cat. Because I feel like every cat teaches me a lesson, my goal is to never forget a single one, even if the cat did not make it.
The Ones Who Do Not Make It
There are multiple different feelings you can have if you lose a cat in your care. You may feel that you and the cat got cheated after he finally found help. This is especially true if you spent so much time with the cat to get him to where you thought he needed to be, only to see him succumb to something that no one ever saw coming. Guilt and regret are two feelings that tend to haunt rescuers, even if we know in our hearts that we did everything we could within reason. The only way I have been able to live with negative thoughts is by realizing what you are about to read.
I lost Frost, who was a very special cat to me and our rescue because he had what seemed like an endless list of problems. He was an underdog in every sense of the word. Frost had roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, battle scars, ear mites, and a broken femoral head to finish the list off. He was found in negative 10 degrees temperature on the first day it started snowing.
We worked with Frost and got him all of the surgeries he needed and thought that he would live a very long time because of the resilience he displayed during recovery. He was vomiting blood on the first day we took him, so we knew that he was perhaps on borrowed time to begin with. Unfortunately, Frost died due to an unknown medical condition, evidenced by his suddenly passing about 6 months after a complete recovery.
The one comment a vet tech said to me made me feel much better. He asked me to imagine standing outside alone in the bitter cold for 3 months and then imagine sitting in a warm bed and watching television for 3 minutes and slowly drifting away. It was at the moment I realized the impact I had made. .I was just so sad that I had forgotten the good times. That 3 months you spent in the bitter cold would be long forgotten after spending 3 minutes in a warm and cozy bed.
Working with several other people made me realize that Frost’s life was one million times better, even if it was short. The care he received and the love we showered him with was more than he probably had ever received. To him, 6 months of living happily in a home with warmth and love was like 6 years, given the amount of love he received in contrast to what he was getting in the cold.
All I remember when it snows now is that each snowflake is unique, just like every single cat that we take in here at the cat rescue–especially Frost. He was bobtailed and blue-eyed, which is my weakness. Even if the time we spend with them is short, it is always worth the lessons we learn and the impact we make in their lives. It is better to die loved in a home than to die in the freezing cold.
Even If It Was A Mistake
We can over analyze the what-ifs of life until we are blue in the face and barely breathing. I have made mistakes in my life and own them because it makes me who I am today. Many times, there are no mistakes, but we will always wonder if there was. Learning from our failures and shortcomings is what brings us into the future if we choose to learn from them. No one is perfect, and coming to terms with that early in your career is going to be vital to success.
I would work hard to save them. One day, you might see a flicker of hope, only to check them the next and find that they have lost ground. Their health can seem like a teeter-totter at times. I would ask why I would be given a cat that I would work hard to save and lose sleep over only to lose them. I had a dream from which I woke up, realizing that it was because I would give them the kindness and love they deserved so that they could leave this world happy.
We can be right 99% of the time, do everything right, but it is that 1% that we remember and anguish over. One friend told me that if you do not have the intention of bringing harm or causing harm, there should be no guilt or shame. I gave that cat love and a dignified life, for which he was probably eternally grateful.
If you did what you could with what you had at the time, you loved that cat like your own, that cannot be wrong in the end. I think that all that life could ever ask of you as a human is that you try your best. Grieving will forever bring you all those should haves, could haves. It is a part of the process and only mellows with time.
I pray that you get over a loss–even if not totally–given enough time. One day I hope that you will remember the fallen ones with a smile instead of tears, the good times more than the bad, and the times they made you laugh. There will be another who will need help soon, as there always will be in the rescue field. One day I will look at the beautiful, unique snowflakes as they fall from the sky and smile when I think of Frost. Unfortunately, this day is not yet that day, and that is okay, too.