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From the Heart

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From the Heart

by Dr. Michael Trapani

It has been difficult to write during these last couple of weeks. It seems as though everyone’s life has been full of frustration and distraction. It’s been hard to find a positive focus. All of this abruptly changed three days ago. 

She doesn’t have a name yet. So far we call her “Stray Kitty.” We try not to name them until we are reasonably sure that they will live. Right now, it (guardedly) looks like that’s going to happen. I’m leaning towards “Sherry,” so we can sing her the old Four Seasons song, Sherry Baby. I’ll have to see what suggestions my technicians have to offer.

Stray Kitty’s story is shrouded in mystery. She was born – of that we are fairly certain. Someone found her, they say, at Lawson’s Landing. When they showed up at my office with her, I was in surgery. Sight unseen, I agreed to accept her, expecting to send her to Animal Care and Control. By law, all free-roaming stray or abandoned animals are the property of the County in which they reside. For Stray Kitty, this somewhat complicated matters, since she was found in Marin County but then transported to Sonoma County, making her, I suppose, an illegal alien kitty. Sending a stray animal to Animal Care would normally be the best choice: she’d be taken care of and her owner would have a better chance to find her at the shelter than anywhere else – if she had an owner.

But we never made the call. I took one look at her and could see she was at Death’s door. The shelter would have no choice but to euthanize her immediately. Though she was about the size of a fourteen-week-old kitten, she weighed only about 1 3/4 pounds, about half of her expected body weight. She wasn’t just skinny, she suffered from emaciation, even inanition. It took weeks of starvation for her to get this way. Her eyes showed a hollowness of spirit that only prolonged depravation can produce. She was weak and barely able to stand, lacking either muscle or fat to fill out her sagging skin, but she purred when petted and cried out pitifully. She was sable in color and may turn out to belong to the Burmese breed, but there’s really no telling now: Her malnutrition is so severe that she may simply be too sick to grow normally pigmented hair. She may well turn out to be a plain black cat, if she lives.

And sick she is. Besides her starvation, Stray Kitty has a couple of types of worms and is infected with toxoplasma, a protozoal parasite that causes anything from simple diarrhea to permanent brain and muscle damage. Toxoplasma is also a potential human health hazard, so on top of everything else Stray Kitty must be kept isolated and all of her excrement treated as if it is infectious.

But… in spite of all this… She has the spark of life in her little Stray Kitty eyes. Her diseases are treatable and now, after three days nursing, she’s gained a little weight and is getting stronger. She purrs more, is using her kitty box, and now eats with gusto. She’s talkative and glad to see us, and she is no longer infectious. I am almost ready to believe that she’s going to survive her incredible ordeal. One must hold one’s heart in reserve with creatures like these.

Given the razor thin profit margins of the small town veterinary hospital, we do not often have the luxury of taking in strays. We lack the resources necessary for this kind of work. There is always another bill, or another tax, to pay, and the expense of caring for unowned patients comes directly from the practice owner’s family income. Even so, this is something that every veterinarian does from time to time. I am grateful that Kristen Kerfoot, my Lead Technician, is willing to volunteer her time to help nurse Stray Kitty on nights and weekends.

We can only do so much, but all of us do what we can, when we can. It’s what we do. I am grateful for the freedom and ability to turn compassion into action. No act of kindness is ever wasted..

Copyright © 2012 by Dr. Michael Trapani