Saturday, September 5, 2009

Compassion for a cat

Our family learned a lesson in compassion this week on the heels of a heart-breaking accident that cost our family cat one of its legs.

Whiskers, a five-month old calico, had his right front leg amputated on Monday. He is home now and recovering from the operation. A full recovery is expected. He had three days of pain meds and will continue on antibiotics for a week.

We are not absolutely certain what happened to Whiskers, but last Sunday one of the boys reportedly “twirled” him in the air and he landed with a thud, made a louder than usual meow and retreated under the bed. Later in the day I noticed he was favoring one leg and the other was limp. A couple of weeks ago one of the boys dropped Whiskers from the upstairs banister onto the stairs below. David observed the cat land on its feet but in retrospect said he believes this could have been the first injury.

I am disappointed in the children’s behavior and have thought a lot about that this week. We try to teach them right from wrong and we certainly don’t condone animal abuse. Aside from this incident I keep reminding myself that they will probably continue to disappoint and we will continue to be forgiving parents and hopefully everyone will learn some lessons along the way. I don’t believe my sons are animal “abusers” but I do think this has been one lesson that they will never forget. They now realize you can’t treat your pets like stuffed animals.

The boy who “twirled” the cat is the same one who upon running home from a friend’s house dropped his tree frog on the sidewalk, accidently stepped on it and entered our house crying hysterically that he’d killed his pocket pet. We buried the frog in the backyard.

The boys were shocked to see Whiskers in his carrier - one leg missing, though they were told what was going to happen - when I picked them up at the babysitters after picking up the cat from the animal hospital. I was glad of this. I told them that day that I hoped they would love Whiskers even more than they did when he had four legs. When we got home the boy who “twirled” the cat and stepped on the frog exited the van crying. “I shouldn’t have done that to Whiskers,” he said. I hugged him and replied, “I forgive you and so does Whiskers.”

I never dreamed a week ago we’d have a three-legged cat. A friend from high school, who is on Facebook, reassured me last Sunday that her cat had broken its leg and pins and plates were used to put him back together again, and that was seven years ago.

An X-ray showed Whiskers’ leg was shattered, said our veterinarian on Monday morning. It would be a tedious operation to repair the leg and it was not guaranteed he would regain full use of the leg. The recovery would require weeks of isolation and little activity. If he didn’t recover, the bum leg would have to be amputated. She then recommended a consultation, perhaps, with an orthopedic animal surgeon. All I saw after the vet's latter comment was dollar signs.

In the half hour I had to decide this cat’s fate, I rationalized that Whiskers' personality would probably change if he had to be confined to a room without any furniture and crated for 6-8 weeks post-op. Whiskers might turn into our last cat, Meg, who not once during the 8 months we had her (she was adopted in March by a Caldwell woman who has no children) let the children pick her up. I also couldn’t fathom the care Whiskers would require for these two critical months. And would the surgery even work? Even after David told me to “put him down,” I decided I could not have Whiskers euthanized. “There is nothing wrong with this cat except a broken leg. He is a wonderful companion,” I told myself over and over again.

So I asked about amputation. Can a cat lead a normal life with three legs? Yes. Have others resorted to amputation in lieu of surgery? Yes. Actually, the vet who performed the amputation said he learned in vet school that dogs and cats “have three legs and a spare.” Before being dismissed from the hospital the doc said Whiskers’ initial difficulty could be with the litter box and learning to bury his waste differently. I’ve not noticed any difference except that maybe there’s a little less litter on the floor (and that’s a good thing). The doc said Whiskers would be able to jump up and down and run like before, and he has.

He’s still slower than his brother Stuart because of the medicine, I think, and the big blue sutures, which come out in a week or so. There is no bandage or other compress to limit his activity. He sleeps a lot but he’s more friendly than he’s ever been – I believe. He is a vocal cat. Whiskers and I had a nice conversation last night in bed, where he rested next to my uncovered feet for a bit. I am keeping him isolated for hours at a time when we are sleeping or not home so Stuart does not tear a stitch before Whiskers heals completely.

Whiskers was shaved from the neck to the stomach but after his fur grows back I think his coat will be just as beautiful as before.

I will post a picture of Whiskers in a couple of months.

1 comment:

  1. Good learning experience for the kids. I remember Columnist Jerry (I can't remember his last name) writing about a 3-legged dog he called Tripod. I also remember he hated cats. :)

    There's a 3-legged dog on the Clifford videos named Casey who gets around just fine. :)