Not quite a kitten, but not big enough to be a full grown cat, a friendly Norewegian Forest cat mix was dumped off at Henry County Care & Control in McDonough, Georgia. Like most cats he was placed in a small steel cage to await his fate, but what was different about him was this cat was injured and unable to put weight on his right front leg.
Any cat lover would want to grab that kitten out of the cage and rush him off to the Vet, but without funds to do so, cats in shelters don't always get the help they need. It's not because the staff is evil or because they don't care, it's because of stupid things like money that force their hand. If they help this one, what about the two other badly injured cats with gaping wounds in their necks who just got brought in, too?
©2012 Betsy Merchant. Poor little fella.
This year I had to turn away from helping cats from Henry County because there were so many others that needed our attention who literally fell out of trees (like Willow). After a long year of helping more abandoned cats than I have ever seen, more stray, homeless, starving, knocked up cats, Maria (our super foster mom in GA) and I decided we both needed to plan to take a break. Neither of us had had more than a week free from fostering for almost three years.
©2012 Betsy Merchant.
It's just plain crazy to push yourself in a field where there is so much misery and heartache. I want to always love my foster cats and have the stamina and compassion to keep helping them. For my own sanity and out of respect to my own cats, after the 13 cats in my program get to their forever homes, I'm done for a few months.
©2012 Betsy Merchant. Do you love those wispy ear tufts or what?
I've already had to say no to many requests for help. I hate it, but I have to do this. Of course, last night I got a text from Maria asking me if I'd heard about this “crushed foot” cat at Henry Co. I had seen the plea a few days before, felt bad about it, then closed the email. I hoped someone would help him, but it'd been a week and no one came forward.
We believe the cat is 6-9 months old and his right paw is twisted out at an odd angle. It's not quite fused in place, but there is a deformity. His paw is warm so there is blood flow. Our intrepid volunteer/driver, Bobby felt the paw and the kitten didn't wince, nor did he feel any broken toes.
©2012 Betsy Merchant. This kitten mostly lays down in his cage. Getting him to stand up is not often easy.
I asked Maria if she wanted to take on another foster and she didn't hesitate to say yes. I contacted Bobby and Henry County and by 2 AM everything was sorted out.
We're going to take on whatever ails this little guy. He may need his leg removed or hopefully surgery can save it somehow. Yes, we'll need to start a ChipIn, but I'm even tired of asking for money. We'll wait to see what the Vet says and take it from there.
©2012 Bobby Stanford. Meet Bongo, our latest rescue!
We'll get him his vaccinations and they'll do x-rays. If he needs pain meds, he'll get them. I look at it this way-it's just one cat, right?
Just one more cat to find a home for. One cat to fuss over and worry about until he's feeling well again. Just one more to love (and honestly, just looking at his crazy ear tufts was enough to put me over the edge).
Somewhere out there is a very special person who can accept the pain of loss as part of the cycle of life. Someone who doesn’t run away from fear, but can sit with it, feel its’ vibration run through their veins and not fall apart. They may wince or shudder, but they can stay in place, take a breath and have faith that another breath will follow. That in this moment everything is okay—even if one day there will be moments of great sadness.
They realize that their experience on this mortal coil is not all about them, but about helping others and being present in the moment and cherishing every second of what remains.
This person could look at a situation like the one I’m facing with Jackson and accept that life with him will be bittersweet.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Jackson's ever the scamp with a big personality to match his big heart.
The test results are back. Jackson’s thyroid function is normal. It takes off the table any hope that his heart problems stemmed from something else that we could control or even cure. It also doesn’t resolve why he attacked my cats or why he still howls at night. His kidney function is slightly off—not a concern right now, but may be in the future. Jackson has a worsening bacterial infection, possibly in his gut, but we’re not sure. It will mean a longer course of antibiotics as he only got Baytril for a week. It may be why I caught him peeing outside the box once or twice and explain why he’s been fairly quiet the past few days.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Waiting for Dr. Larry.
The lasix, ACE inhibitors and aspirin (a tiny amount every 3 days) haven’t caused any positive changes to his enlarged heart. It’s only been 10 days, but I was hoping to see more signs showing the medication was helping him—although he does seem to be more comfortable. Dr. Larry feels that Jackson's always had a bad heart and that it didn't stem from a virus or other issue.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.
The other thing Dr. Larry mentioned was how difficult it is to handle Jackson. When he’s at the Vet, Jackson gets amped up. They can handle him for a few minutes but to do more than that Jax begins to get nasty with the staff. His heart rate soars and his breathing becomes labored.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Taking a break at Dr. Larry's, but even with a hands off approach Jackson is still vexed.
That’s why I chose to have extra blood tests done since we had the sample available. I don’t know when we’ll be able to draw more blood. I don’t know how we’ll be able to repeat Jackson’s echocardiogram in a safe way next month.
©2012 Betsy Merchant. Jackson at the Kill Shelter.
I’m tempted to look at this situation and think that Jackson was meant to be with me. I saw his photo in a mass emailing, asking rescue groups to save this cat at a Kill shelter in Georgia. Something about him made me want to save his life. Then cruel thoughts emerge—maybe he would have been better off if they euthanized him at the shelter? Was it worth all this stress, transport to Connecticut, living in a shelter, being moved back and forth in cars because his previous adopters traveled a lot, then losing that home and coming to mine—only to have little time left to live?
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Home from the Vet, Jackson still prefers to hang out in the cat carrier.
If I hadn’t been so diligent about finding out why his breathing looked odd to me, Jackson would probably be adopted with a ticking time bomb inside him that would destroy his unsuspecting family.
We know what ails Jackson, but we don’t know if there’s anyone who lives close by (we can’t transport him far ever again) who would want to open their home to a cat who probably isn’t going to live a very long time. Dr. Larry said months, years if we’re lucky.
Truly only someone with the heart of a lion would adopt Jackson and I hope very sincerely they’re reading this post. Jackson deserves a home where he doesn’t have to vie for attention as he has to do here. He’d be happy with a cat or two to make friends with, but that’s a quiet place full of love and compassion.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. I don't know why Jackson prefers cardboard, even after I bought him a nice new cat bed, but he likes what he likes.
I turn my head and see Jackson curled up in a cardboard canned cat food tray that’s on the floor. It’s not fancy, but he likes it. He’s resting quietly. All is well. I look at him and tears burn my eyes as I struggle not to cry. My life is about rescuing cats, about saving their lives and finding them wonderful families to share their life with. It’s not supposed to be like this.
I wrote most of this post yesterday before Dr. Larry told me about the severity of Jackson’s heart condition. After a brief discussion…
He shouldn't have to endure the stress of moving to another home and trying to adjust. He has his home here with us. It’s not perfect, but we do love him. We’ll keep him in our program because we honestly can’t afford to provide for another cat and had no plans to add to our family. We’ll set up a special donation page for him and continue to update everyone on how he’s doing since I know so many of you care about him and ask after him.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Jackson holding his catnip heart.
I had no idea that one day I’d say I was living with Jackson Galaxy, cherishing him and protecting him until his last day, but there you go. Life is full of irony and surprises.
I’m just trying to keep my chin up and be brave for Jackson and enjoy every moment we have together until there are no more.
The fur is growing back on Jackson's front legs from where he was shaved to insert an IV needle. The fur is growing back on Jackson's chest where he was shaved so the cardiologist could get a better echocardiogram of his malfunctioning heart. In some ways, Jackson appears the same as he did when we rescued him from a kill shelter nine months ago, but in some ways Jackson is being transformed and the results have been surprising and shocking.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Beginning to feel better.
It's been about ten days since we discovered Jackson was suffering from Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy—a thickness of the lining of the walls of Jackson's heart. Twice each day Jackson needs to be medicated with two tiny pills. Every third day, Jackson gets a quarter portion of a baby aspirin to prevent clots from forming.
At first I worried if I'd be able to keep to the schedule of medicating Jackson. I feared he'd be resistant and grow to challenge my attempts. Luckily, Jackson's been surprisingly easy to pill-so far-knock wood. I can hide Jackson's pills in minute amount of Flavor DOH along with a little bit of his favorite canned food.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Is Jackson a good egg?
The only difficult thing about treating Jackson has been keeping his pills organized and making sure each Sunday I prep his pills by cutting them into halves and placing them in a pill box. I went a bit overbid and got his prescriptions compounded into liquid in case I couldn't give Jax a pill. It was expensive and turns out, unnecessary. At least I have more meds should I run out without having a refill on hand.
Before the “incident” Jackson was either very quiet or cried at night. He mostly kept to himself and slept. Once in awhile he'd play with the laser pointer. Now that he's been on his medication, a new Jackson is emerging. One I'm not sure I like very much.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Petunia, Nicky and Jackson (in egg).
Don't get me wrong, Jackson is a sweet cat, friendly and affectionate, but as soon as his energy level increased, his behavior changed. I caught Jackson spritzing urine near the kitchen, then again in a few other places. I deal with cat pee every day, but adding ANOTHER cat to the “who did the peeing” list is a nightmare.
I do the best I can to clean it up and sort out why they feel the need to do that. Sam and I are always looking for more ways to make them feel more comfortable and at ease. We want them to be happy, but we need some sense of autonomy over our own living conditions, too.
Yesterday something happened that could be the beginning of the end-the one thing I cannot tolerate and I can tolerate a lot. Without provocation Jackson charged after Petunia, scaring her badly. That's not the end of the world, but what he did next shocked me.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Poor Cricket is still stressed after being attacked.
Jackson jumped up to the top of a cat tree where Cricket was sleeping. Cricket is our “former feral” cat. He keeps to himself and he doesn't bother with any of the other cats. He's probably the most submissive cat in the house and one of the sweetest.
What the HELL was going on? This is NOT acceptable. My cat-mother-protectivness came out with a vengeance. My cats are not going to fall victim to attacks like this. I don't care what is going on with Jackson. If he's injuring my cats that's it. He's out. It's not fair that my cats are subjected to new cats from time to time or have to suffer upper respiratory because I have sick kittens in another part of the house.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Jackson just wants to be understood and loved for who he is.
But how am I going to talk about this? I'm going to get judged for what I do or think about this situation? Perhaps knowing that gave me pause and kept me from kicking Jackson out of the house.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.
Tomorrow Jackson returns to the Vet. This is his first Vet visit since he almost died. He's no longer in pain and feeling better. We're repeating his x-rays to see how his heart is responding to medication. We're running a FreeT4 blood test to look at his thyroid levels and we're checking his kidney function because he can have kidney problems due to the fluids he has to move to keep his heart and lungs clear.
Perhaps we'll find out that all these issues are caused by his thyroid, which can be treated. Perhaps it will make it a lot easier to forgive Jackson for his mis-behaviors. I realize he's not a man in a cat suit and he's behaving as a cat does, but who IS this cat? Is he as sweet as sugar or the devil in disguise? Is he just bored? What am I doing to contribute to the problem or am I the problem?
I can't say today, but fairly soon we'll know more and hopefully be able to get a better understanding of just who Jackson Galaxy really is.
It started around Saturday. the DOOD wasn't eating well. I didn't notice because Sam usually feeds the cats (while I feed the foster cats). With everything going on with Jackson, we didn't notice the DOOD wasn't moving around much, either-until we looked back on it.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Waiting to see Dr. Larry.
By Monday, I did notice that DOOD was staying put in one place for most of the day. He won't get up to eat, but would eat if I brought him his food. He wasn't running around, jumping on Blitzen or bulldozing his way to get a piece of chicken before the others could reach it. DOOD wasn't even climbing into my lap to lick my face as he does just about every evening.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.
I cooked broccoli. Yes, that's how I cure disease. Okay, maybe not, but I knew DOOD would get up if he smelled the vegetable cooking. He didn't get up. I brought him the bowl filled with his favorite thing in the world. He was very interested in it and got up. I encouraged him to climb down from the cat tree onto the floor. He did so, but he did it slowly. I knew something was wrong, but not sure what it was.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.
I saw DOOD take a few steps. I shot a quick video to document the problem. DOOD was limping very badly. He cried a little when he reached me. I tried to examine him after he had some broccoli, but he hissed, then nipped at my hand. He even growled.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Being a good boy with Dr. Larry and Super-Deb.
I felt the urge to panic, but fought it back. He's a very clumsy cat. When he runs, his back feet get out from under him all the time. When he wants to push the others out of the way to get a treat, he might overshoot where he's trying to jump and miss.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Yes, DOOD is high.
I gave it a few days. DOOD seemed to act a bit brighter each day. Then yesterday morning the DOOD jumped onto the chair next to me. He began trembling from pain. I knew I was pushing my luck and called Dr. Larry. We had to wait until the afternoon, but we brought him in for an examination, blood work and x-rays.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.
Poor DOOD. He was very good with Dr. Larry and Super-Deb. He didn't make much of a fuss until Dr Larry touched the center of his spine-then he hissed and growled. I was very worried DOOD had a spinal cord injury, but then he wouldn't be able to walk, right? I also worried about an abscess that I missed finding. Something happened with Jackson because DOOD hissed at him and hid when Jackson was near him. Maybe there was a bite wound in DOOD's back?
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.
Dr. Larry took a long time reviewing the x-rays. I got more worried as each minute ticked by. He came back into the exam room and motioned for Sam and I to follow him to the back where we could see the x-rays. Dr. Larry sighed. I started to imagine very bad news.
“I just can't find anything wrong.”
Next, Dr. Larry went over the x-rays, pointing out how he'd look for signs of an abscess-little wisps or lines passing through the skin where gas/air pockets were forming around the wound. None were found. Vertebrae looked good-intact. We looked at DOOD's right front paw and it was fine. Then we saw DOOD's heart and I almost fainted. I realized Dr. Larry brought up Jackson's X-ray on the screen! Right???!! RIGHT!..whew…
The blood work was normal. DOOD's temp was a bit high, but that could have been caused by stress. Bottom line-this was probably a fairly bad soft tissue injury. Rest and pain meds-which are tough to come by for cats-was prescribed. The choice, buprenex and aspirin-yes aspirin, but only twice over the next 4 days, but I'm not sure I can give that to him.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Waitin' to feel better. (with Nicky in the background)
DOOD is home, laying on the bed. He doesn't move much and his eyes seem glued open. I'm sure he's tripping out on the buprenex. I'll give him the aspirin tonight. He's not eating unless I put extra treats on his food and he growls when he has to walk. DOOD must have really twisted his back, but good. I wish he could talk to me and tell me where it hurts.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Zonked.
It's wait and see, like so many other health related problems with our cats. At least nothing is broken and DOOD does not require surgery. I hope that with some TLC and rest he'll be back to running around like a maniac.
Plus, my face needs a DOOD-special-bath.
This post is dedicated to all the good people out there who love our foster cat, Jackson Galaxy. Without your love and support it would have been very difficult to provide the high level of care Jackson required to diagnose that he was suffering from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy-the most common and often fatal heart ailment that effects cats.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Jackson is comfortable at last. In one of his favorite spots-a cardboard canned cat food tray near the kitchen.
While we will always do whatever it takes to help our foster cats, the funds in our bank account were at an all time low. We begged and borrowed (no stealing, though!) and got Jackson the help he needed. Once you heard there was a crisis, many of you jumped in to help fill our coffers so we could make sure Jackson got what he needed.
I'm pleased to let you know, knock wood, that Jackson is doing well. He's responded to treatment and he's easy to pill (so far!). There's more down the road, more tests, adjustment of medications, but right now Jackson's comfortable, chatty, eating well and happy (okay he has a few eye-boogies, but I'll clean them off next time he gets pilled).
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Enjoy this update on our Jackson. It may have a sad start, but I know you'll enjoy the new footage of Jackson in action.
I'm truly grateful for every prayer, good wish and virtual hug. I know Jackson is, too.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.
Perhaps it's fitting that as I write this my chest feels tights and my sinuses are plugged up. My sole goal for today is to write this update then finally go to bed and rest. With all the effort surrounding Jackson and his care, I couldn't let a cold stand in my way, but I realize I've been flirting with getting pneumonia (again) and if I'm sick I can't care for him.
Jackson. How's he doing?
Jackson responded to the lasix and ACE inhibitor treatment over the course of Wednesday evening. First, the crackling lung sounds subsided, then were gone. The fluid build up in his lungs was resolved. This was a great sign.
©2012 Robin A.F Olson. Waiting.
Jackson's respiration was still too fast, but slower than it was when we first brought him in. This told us the lasix was working to remove the fluid around his heart that was making him feel so uncomfortable in the first place.
©2012 Robin A.F Olson. Here's Jackson! At last!
By Thursday morning, Jackson was off oxygen and in a “regular” cage. After retesting his blood pressure and respiration, the Vets, including a cardiologist and critical care specialist, felt that Jackson was getting close to being stable enough to go home. On Jackson's chart was a warning note-that he was fractious and for the staff to handle him with caution. Perhaps it was the treatment or simply feeling better but Jackson stopped being aggressive and the staff found he was a joy to be with.
©2012 Robin A.F Olson. With boo-boo bandage still intact, Jackson finally heads home.
They also asked me what Jackson was being fed and I told them not to feed him dry food, at least. They gave him canned Friskies, which they knew I'd not be thrilled about, but Jackson ate it right up, the final clinical sign that told the Vets he was ready to go home.
Yesterday afternoon Sam and I drove to VCA Shoreline Veterinary Referral & Emergency Center. We knew we weren't going to pick up a cat who was cured of his illness, but at least we were going to pick up a living cat. Jackson had begun a transformation, but I didn't know how he would be different; would he have more energy? be cranky? be difficult to pill?
©2012 Robin A.F Olson.
The other big question was; NOW WHAT? What would become of Jackson?
A great family met Jackson a few days before and had decided that he was the one for them. I couldn't ask anyone to take on the care of a cat with a terminal disease. It was too much to hope for that they'd still want to bring him home after I told them the sad news.
In a way, the possible adoption saved Jackson's life-that and the sad fact that my dear cat, Stanley died of HCM when it was too late to do anything to help him. Stanley's respiration mimicked Jackson's and for that reason I felt that I wanted to get Jackson checked out one more time before he got adopted. I had a feeling something was off with Jax and at least, even with the costs and fear for his future, it was worth it. Maybe we caught it in time to still give him a good quality of life?
We spoke with Jackson's Vet and she went over the many details about his care going forward. First, Jackson must be medicated with 2 TINY pills, 2 times per day. He's also on a short course of Baytril since he did show signs of having some sort of infection/upper respiratory issues. Jackson will also be on a small dose of aspirin every 3 days. This is to prevent his blood from clotting. Cats with HCM can “throw a clot” which often causes their back legs to become immobilized. It also can cause death.
©2012 Robin A.F Olson.
In addition to medications, Jackson will need MORE tests done. Doing a FreeT4 blood test is important because heart problems can be brought on by hyperthyroidism so that needs to be ruled out. Jax will also need another echocardiogram in 2 to 3 months and followup blood work to check his kidney function. The problem with HCM, in addition to the obvious, is that the extra fluids we need to keep off Jackson's heart put a strain on the kidneys. If Jackson has renal disease, it's game over.
We have to wait and see how he'll respond to the drug therapy over time. We couldn't even discuss if he has years or months. We thought Jackson was two, but turns out he's closer to five years old. He's still a young cat, so perhaps he'll be with us for a long time to come.
Last night we got Jackson home and he hit the litter pan and had what must have been a very satisfying pee. He wanted to be fed but only nibbled on his food. He spent an hour on the bed but most of the night inside the cat carrier we used to bring him to the Vet. This morning he didn't want to eat, but I managed to get him pilled.
©2012 Robin A.F Olson. At home on the bed with Spencer.
This morning, as I started to put a game plan together of what to try to tempt Jackson with, he started to meow. He came over to me and rubbed up against my legs. I asked him if he was hungry and he meowed in reply. I grabbed some cat food, warmed it up and offered it to him. Sam and I had to stand as sentries to keep the other cats away since they were still waiting for their breakfast to thaw out while Jackson finally ate.
It was a marvelous sight.
Though he didn't eat well, he DID eat, then wanted a bit more a bit later.
©2012 Robin A.F Olson. This morning.
I find myself watching Jackson's chest rise and fall, trying to be prepared at any moment to run him to the Vet. His breathing is more fluid, smoother, slower and more normal, but it's tough not to feel panic. We have to stay watchful, but we have to give it time so we can all adjust.
Jackson just cried just now. I went upstairs to check on him. He got out of his cat carrier and came over to me. He purred as I petted him. I lowered my head down to his and he rubbed his forehead against mine. Maybe he was telling me “thank you for saving my life” or maybe he was just feeling a bit lonely. Whatever the reason, I was glad to see this sign of him feeling better. He really IS a good boy.
A sweet note from some of Jackson's fans.
It's time for me to go back to bed and finally get some rest. Jackson needs it, too. It's been a tough few days on all of us, but this reminds me never to take even a single day for granted. You really don't know what tomorrow will bring.
If you'd like to join the MANY WONDERFUL PEOPLE who have donated towards Jackson's growing Vet bill, please visit this link on ChipIn to donate. THANK YOU!
SEE END OF POST FOR IMPORTANT UPDATE
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.
Jackson's not well. He's been off for a few days. He's still eating, but otherwise he's depressed and keeps to himself. He's been sleeping on my bed, which is odd, yet nice. The odd part is that he stays there day and night.
I couldn't put it off. I had to have Jackson checked by Dr Larry. Something was wrong.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.
Jackson's sensitive when his abdomen is touched. Last time I took him to the Vet, he was cranky but we couldn't find anything wrong without doing expensive tests. I decided to wait it out and hope for the best. Jackson was doing fine until a few days ago when he got quiet. This cat really chats up a storm and for him not to even meow signals that there's trouble.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.
I got Jackson in to see Dr. Larry this morning.
It was not easy for Super-Deb to even get his temperature. The moment Deb started to work on Jackson he started to growl. When Dr. Larry came in to examine Jackson he didn't even want to be touched, though only moments before Dr. Larry entered the room, Deb and I were getting head-butts and purrs from him.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.
We decided not to mess with Jackson, but rather to leave him be and discuss what we think might be going on. You know I had a virus run through my house a month ago and two weeks ago Spencer was very sick. Perhaps this is a virus that will run its' course?
Nicky attacked Jackson a few weeks ago and scratched his face rather badly. The wound was treated and is healing but maybe I missed a puncture and Jackson has an abscess? That would explain his fever..but Jackson's white. You'd think any boo-boo would be visible?
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.
That leaves us with having to run tests. This is were I get shaken to my core. We just can't afford a lot of tests and Jackson needs help NOW. To even get blood from Jackson, he's going to have to be sedated. He's just too angry or in too much pain or both and it's the safest thing to do for him and for the staff at Dr. Larry's.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.
We can't give him what he needs and I'm terrified of what is to come. Please if you would considering contributing to this Emergency ChipIn for Jackson I would be so grateful. I'm trying not to ask for a lot, but I'm guessing just today will be over $600.00 with our discount.
Your donation is TAX-DEDUCTIBLE as my rescue, Kitten Associates is a 501©3 Non-Profit Cat Rescue.
If you'd prefer to send a check, please make it out to: Kitten Associates and please note on the check the funds should go to "Jackson's Big Heart" mail it to:
P.O. Box 354
Newtown, CT 06470-0354
Any funds not used for the care of this family will go into our General Fund.
Sept 12 6:49 PM EST UDPATE:
Jackson's heart is big, but in a bad way. Dr. Larry fears a serious problem. Jackson's breathing is labored so they're holding oxygen near his face. Jackson's crying. I'm crying, too. We looked at the x-rays and you could see that Jackson's heart is HUGE with a swollen lobe off to one side. Jackson's lungs have a strange pattern, not exactly pneumonia and probably not cancer.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Jackson's heart should be 2-3 ribs wide, not 4-5.
We were faced with what to do next. Jackson MUST have an echocardiogram ASAP. He must be in a cage with oxygen, too. Dr. Larry can't do those tests so we had to drive Jax about 40 minutes away to the VCA Shoreline Animal Hospital.
I called Katherine, my dear friend at Animals in Distress. She and I have been working on finding Jackson a home. I called her, crying. I didn't know what to do. I had to find a way to come up with the money to help Jackson. She offered to pay for the echo, which is nearly $500.00. She told me not to worry. Thank God I have friends like her.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. You can see Jackson's heart bulging and misshapen from fluid.
Sam got the car running and cranked the A/C. I paid the bill for Jackson. It was $540.00, then we made our way to Shoreline with Jackson riding shotgun.
Jackson cried and was struggling to breathe during the trip. I was in the back seat frantically texting people updates. We were all trying to guess what was going on, but we didn't want to know, too. That x-ray was shocking. I started to fear I was going to have to put Jackson down.
Dr. April, a cardiologist, did Jackson's echo tonight. She went over the results saying without any hesitation that Jackson is in Heart Failure brought on by the anesthesia he got this afternoon. He was teetering with it before but this pushed him over the edge. They were treating him with lasix to see if he would resolve some of the swelling around his heart.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Getting Oxygen before we run him to Shoreline.
I'll go into more detail about his condition, but it leaves us in a very sad place.
I do not know if Jackson will be with us in the morning. It's up to him and the treatment. He did look a bit perkier when we said our farewells to him, but we really won't know anything for awhile.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Jackson meowing. A bit perkier. Maybe a sign of hope?
I asked about what happens when a cat gets too old to be tested or develops problems where they can no longer provide good test results. The senior cats were placed in a “retirement” group home that frankly was quite austere. I asked why they couldn’t get adopted out to a family. Their reasoning was that senior cats often developed illnesses that were too costly for adopters to have to pay for so it was not possible to adopt them out. I couldn’t help but think that with all the money Hill's has, the least they could do was to adopt out those cats and give them FREE Vet care for the rest of their life, taking the financial burden off the adopters and giving those cats (and dogs) a graceful end to their life.
©2012 Hill's. Dr. Burris with cats. (used with permission)
When the tour group moved on, I asked one of the employees what they do with cats who have terminal illness. She said they had a cat with mammary gland tumors, but they would not do surgery to remove them. She didn’t know if it was due to the cat's blood test results making it too risky to do the surgery or why their staff Vet decided not to do anything. She didn’t go into whether they’d done chemo for any cats but I heard of a dog getting a surgery to repair a leg injury. I wondered at what point they turned their backs on those animals? Maybe they never do. I can’t speak to that question.
The animals are only subjected to occasional blood draws and yearly dentals. They are not dissected, but they do necropsies after the animal has passed away.
©2012 Hill's. Turtle and Zebra (used with permission)
We were told that Hill's took euthanasia very seriously, but in the end, when the animals were put down, they were put into a group cremation and that was all we were told. No, those cats or dogs weren’t someone’s pet and were placed in an urn in a cherished place on the mantel, but each animal is given a name from the moment they enter the facility.
We toured the AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association which was founded in 1933 by a group of Veterinarians-Dr. Mark Morris was one of them) accredited surgical suite and state-of-the-art Vet department. It was spotless, glowing, enormous. They mostly did dental cleanings or spay/neutering. They had every sort of MRI or dual bone density scanner that any Vet would drool over. I couldn’t help but wish they’d open this space up to local rescues for a free Vet clinic a few times a month-just to give back, but how could they? It would bring disease into the building.
We finished the tour of the animal housing and many folks were abuzz about how wonderful the areas were. Maybe it was just me, but I could only think about how every night they turned the lights off and not one of those dogs or cats had a bed to sleep on and a human to sleep with. Was it worth those animals giving up their lives to science when the clinical trials don't seem to be long enough in the first place?
©2012 Hill's. Falstaff. -today they use beagles- (used with permission)
For what it was, their facility is spacious, clean and well lit. The dogs appear to be having a good time, running around outside, barking their little beagle barks. I’m certain the cats and dogs who live in other test facilities have it much, much worse. I think Hill’s did a very good job at creating as comfortable and humane a space as they could.
It was time for the wrap up. Mr. Kontopanos was very eager to hear what we thought about the tour and the presentations. Many folks were on board, but thankfully a few asked some probing questions. Questions like where does your protein come from—factory farms or free range? Answer: Tyson’s for chicken and other places, but then they glossed over the answer, meaning it was probably factory farms. Many pet guardians care about where their own food comes from and they feel the same way about the food they feed their animals. No one wants animals to suffer so where is the leadership in Hill’s opting to use farms that can be certified humane? Perhaps those changes are to come?
I asked Mr. Kontopanos if Hill's was planning on producing a grain-free food since the market has exploded with options-clearly due to consumer buying trends. Mr. Kontopanos paused, looked a bit irritated, then said they would produce one only when they could declare it as “complete balanced nutrition.” I wondered how many times he’d answered this question. Had Hill’s focused too much effort on trying to convince pet owners that corn and other grains are good for their pets while there is a lot of evidence to prove the contrary? [apparently there IS a lone dog food with no grain, but I don’t have info on that at this time].
I didn’t ask about how they felt about people feeding a raw diet. I didn’t have the nerve to go there after seeing a slide earlier in the day that talked about what people feed their pets and raw feeding was considered “unconventional.”
No one else brought it up, either, but I knew a few others felt the same as I did that it was actually appropriate and not unconventional to feed a raw diet.
One of their basic diets for adult cats, Science Diet® Adult Indoor Cat Dry has 5 grains and the only animal protein is Chicken by-product meal (according to the AAFCO consists of the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered chicken, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, exclusive of feathers, except in such amounts as might occur unavoidable in good processing practice). Can you tell me how this is better than a raw diet of ground chicken muscle meat, organs and bones from a known, humane farm with some egg yolks, water, low sodium salt, taurine, etc.?
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. My “golden” ticket into the secret world of the Emporia Plant.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Arriving at the Plant.
Early the next morning we toured the Hill's manufacturing plant in Emporia, Kansas (one of a handful around the country, in addition to two in Europe). It was just as spotlessly clean and run by devoted employees as the Pet Nutrition Center campus. There’s very tight security in the plant so we weren’t allowed to take any photos. The place had an odd aroma. I thought it was something like a baked grain, then Teri suggested it smelled like dry food cat barf. Thanks, Teri!
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Trying to comfort Teri. “You'll get used to the smell. It's not barf, I hope.”
The Emporia manufacturing plant, built in 2010, achieved its LEED – Silver certification last May. The over 500,000 square foot plant is a closed system where each segment of processing is separated by large corridors so that, for instance, the raw stage of processing can’t contaminate the extruding/“kill stage” and so on. Since the process is closed, there’s less chance for the product to be exposed, but the bad part about that is you don’t SEE the ingredients coming together to form their products.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Vats and stuff.
Basically there were a lot of vats, conduit, pipes and odd sounds. It was a perfect setting to shoot a movie if we hadn’t been bogged down by wearing ear protection, hairnets, lab coats, hard hats and steel-toed covers on our shoes.
This plant produces 500,000 pounds of dry food every day. They run three shifts Monday through Friday. The weekend is for cleaning. All the food is x-rayed to make sure there’s no metal in it. They have extremely high quality standards and points at which they test the product. They deal with 140 ingredients so it must be a daunting task.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. More strange equipment.
As our tour entered the warehouse it reminded me of the last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones sees the warehouse where the Ark of the Covenant gets stored. I counted 50 aisles stacked 3 palettes high of bagged dry foods. I couldn’t see how far back it went, but I’d say it filled a football field, at least. I asked to take a photo of the stacks of bags and was denied.
The tour was concluded and we were escorted onto a very plush bus that took us to the airport. It was a fast paced, loaded-with-info tour. I didn’t drink the Kool-Aid®, but the interactions I had with the staff from Hill’s and the folks who were on the tour was very pleasant and respectful. I couldn’t have been treated better.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Dr. Patrick Mahaney, Holistic Veterinarian, super-nice guy and -yes, the same one you've seen on TV - and moi.
There seem to be some very caring, possibly even passionate people who do care about pets at Hill’s, but with all due respect, the way they go about “manufacturing” pet food isn’t something I can get on board with even if “Since 2002, the Hill’s Food, Shelter & Love Program™ has donated more than $240 million worth of Science Diet® brand foods to nearly 1,000 animal shelters nationwide, in every state.” That sounds good until you realize they have a captive audience. The shelter takes the free food and then passes along free samples to adopters, who will, of course, become new Hill's customers.
Hill’s promotional material also states: “It has also helped more than 6 million pets find new homes, and counting.” Though if you ask them to clarify that fact, what is happening is they are taking credit for the adoptions of animals from the shelters they donate food to. Hill’s doesn’t operate any shelters.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.
When it’s all said and done Hill’s treated me with respect and provided for my every need. I appreciate their hospitality and their pride in their company and their community.
No one ever said a word about cats being OBLIGATE carnivores and how science could ever supersede that simple fact by using chemicals, cooking, over processing technology and less costly grains to make up for what cats truly need. They need MEAT. That’s how they get their energy, unlike humans, who get it from carbohydrates.
I realize that asking Hill’s to take their multi-billions of dollars and DO THE RIGHT THING with their products is a Herculean undertaking. Even adding ONE ingredient to ONE kind of cat food starts a chain reaction that could take months if not years to implement.
How can you move a behemoth of a company into a new direction when they’ve already spent decades on marketing to convince consumers that science IS the answer, not common sense?
It’s like me telling you to eat a vitamin soaked breakfast bar and tell you it will cover your nutritional needs because it’s “scientifically proven” (because it was tested for up to six months on about 8 humans) and it will allow you to live a long, healthy life. It will give you calories and some nutrition, but in the long haul what is your quality of life? You’ll be alive, but will you thrive? Will your teeth be ruined and will you have skin allergies and lymphoma?
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.
Until then, I'm going to respectfully disagree and hope that one day the answer to the question of “What should I feed my cat?” will no longer be so divisive.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. A last look at Kansas and touchdown in NYC.
[if you missed part one, you can read it HERE]
The agenda for the rest of the day included presentations about Hill’s Philosophy of Precisely Balanced Nutrition and about their Promise of Quality & Safety.
Hill’s has 170 different products for dogs and cats that are divided into two distinct lines: “Science Diet®” and “Prescription Diet®” (which is only available through a Vet). Does that blow your mind, too? Does it seem like a bit much? Sure there are different nutritional requirements for a kitten than for a senior cat and for a dog who’s a couch potato versus a dog who does agility training, but do consumers really need to choose from 170 different products?
I had to take a deep breath. Does it make sense that there needed to be such clearly defined types of food? There’s food for cats who have kidney problems, cats with thyroid problems, cats who are fat, cats who have skin allergies. There’s wet, there’s dry, there’s more versions of the same for dogs.
But why not take a step back? Treat the underlying cause for these issues. What CAUSED these problems instead of treating them using the same mindset as a pharmaceutical company—don't cure the problem, manage the symptoms and keep the patient comfortable.
©2012 Hill's. Black cat in group home. (used with permission)
From my standpoint, there really only needs to be one wholesome food that branches out to a variety of single, unique proteins with slight tweaks of additional ingredients you can rotate feeding. That way the cat or dog doesn’t get bored and it ensures the animal gets a balanced diet since some proteins are higher in fat or other vitamins and minerals and some are lower in differing ratios. Rotating the proteins, again, just common sense (and yes there are Vets who support this notion as well).
My father, who was a microbiologist and in charge of Quality Assurance for a major corporation in the dairy industry always said this to me about proper nutrition; “Everything in moderation.”
If I was going to get on board with the need for a growing number of different foods, then I would be very impressed with how Hill’s goes about creating them. They do palatability tests. They have humans learn to sniff out different flavors, then do testing on those flavor combinations to see what goes over well with a cat versus a dog. They have the ability to “map” out flavor combinations and create charts that show what cats prefer versus dogs. Turns out cats love grassy scent, but not earthy. They like fish, but not if it’s too fishy. They have teams of people who just work on the science of taste. That was quite impressive, but is it really necessary?
They’re also very serious about food safety and have extremely strict protocols for each and every ingredient they purchase, strict guidelines their vendors must attain and everything is tested before it even ENTERS their manufacturing plants in the US and eastern Europe.
What we didn’t get to learn about was Hill’s nutrigenomics because their lead person had left the company recently. We saw a chart while walking in the hallway and a tech from that department told us how they take the DNA from a cat or dog and have ways of seeing how it reacts when specific nutrients are applied to it. From their web site it states: “For Hill's, nutrigenomics is promoting lifelong health through targeted nutrition. We strategically formulate our pet foods to address the genetic processes that help keep our pets healthy and promote longevity. Nutrigenomics is not to be confused with just making food targeted to a pet's breed…
©2012 Hill's. Christina Scott with Mauer and Jane Victoria(on shelf). (used with permission)
… One of our therapeutic weight control pet foods, Hill's® Prescription Diet® r/d® Canine, is another example of our use of nutrigenomics technology. The nutrition in Prescription Diet® r/d® Canine features targeted nutrients that support healthy metabolism, thereby helping dogs burn fat more efficiently.”
This is where my head started to spin. Wouldn't a wholesome diet help an animal burn fat appropriately? My concern here is that by affecting the metabolism so that it “burns fat more efficiently,” what does that do long-term to the animal? Is it as simple as helping dogs burn off fat? What if this changes the dog's metabolism permanently, even after this Prescription Diet® r/d® food is no longer fed? There may be a tipping point in the life of that dog where fat burning becomes a problem, not a solution.
I asked about the length of clinical food testing trials they do on the animals in their care. The trials last no more than 6 months and are done on a handful of animals, with one exception where they followed a group of dogs that lived as the single pet with a family for 5 years.
How can you know what a food will do to a cat’s teeth when they do dental cleanings on ALL animals EVERY year? No pet guardian does that in “real life.” How can you know your dry food doesn’t cause dental problems or cause obesity if they only get it for 6 months or, if they get so many other foods to test, how can you say what causes that animal to gain weight? Which food gave the cat diabetes if they’d been tested on 10 or more over the past number of years?
©2012 Hill's. Dr. Stone and HotBot with exercise pen in background. (used with permission)
We had a very interesting presentation by Dr. Bill Schoenherr, the Principal Nutritionist at Hill’s, who has a long background in the cattle feed industry and more recently in the pet food industry. He talked about how to read a pet food label and the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) guidelines for food ingredients that AAFCO approved manufacturers must follow. Each and every ingredient is listed as to what it can be and cannot be, what form it should take, from what part of the animal or plant and so on. You have to be a member of the Federation of Animal Science Societies to purchase a copy of the AAFCO guidelines that were last updated in 2008.
How to read a pet food label could easily be book in and of itself, but some of the big things you should know are that ingredients are listed by weight-heaviest weight is listed first. If the food lists “chicken” first, it’s no different than the AAFCO definition of “chicken meal” (which certainly sounds worse than just Chicken to consumers). “Meal” is the dry form of chicken. It’s nutritionally similar, it weighs less and is cheaper and easier to ship, but consumers see the word “chicken” and assume it’s the same as what they would eat. WRONG!
©2012 Hill's. Dr. Burris with Hug Me Jeff and Fraizer. (used with permission)
The chicken our pets get is not very appetizing. It’s no feathers, heads or feet (feet are in by-products), but it’s not organs or much muscle meat. It’s a lot of bones and the ash content can differ by supplier.
He spoke a lot about food descriptors like, “gravy, dinner, platter, entrée, formula.” What he didn’t talk about was what sort of goal Hill’s had regarding these ingredients or descriptors. It was said over and over again their only goal was “complete and balanced diet,” but they didn’t say how they made that happen for obligate carnivores using ingredients like corn, wheat, soy or cellulose in foods that were often over-cooked to the point of a breakdown in nutrients.
I was disappointed by the presentation by Dr. Julie Churchill who is a Vet Nutritionist at the University of Minnesota. Her presentation was about nutritional assessment of dogs. She started by saying to the effect that she was not being paid by Hill’s to say what was on her mind about nutrition, and that she hoped they would invite her back again, suggesting she was about to say something mind-blowing about animal nutrition. Silently, I was rooting her on, hoping she’d say the “R” (raw) word.
In fact, all she did was talk about scoring a cat or dog’s physical condition and that optimal nutrition was the cornerstone of good health—DUH. Her presentation featured images from the AAHA’s (The American Animal Hospital Association) web site regarding a study that was paid for by Hill’s. I kept waiting for her to say something about what makes up optimal nutrition, not just that an animal needs it, but what IS it?
I didn’t have the nerve to say something in public but as we began the tour of the facility, I asked her what makes up optimal nutrition and she wouldn’t answer me directly, only saying it was a good question.
Our tour included seeing the housing for Hill’s “Pet Partners” (research animals)—420 dogs and 500 cats. Their facility is 40,000 square feet. We saw about one half of it. They mostly house beagles from known breeders and domestic short-haired cats, again from breeders or they breed them in-house. They also take animals from other labs when their tests are completed. They’re too concerned about bringing illness into their facility by rescuing shelter cats or dogs to get animals from those places.
©2012 Hill's. One of the many group homes. (used with permission)
The animals are in group homes with spotless platforms to lie on, big windows and plenty of space to move around. We were not allowed to take photos of these areas, but were provided a few by Hill's.
The dogs have outdoor access and they have 2-hour breaks outside, then are rotated inside so another group can go outside.
Anyone who works at Hill’s can take a dog for a walk or work on their computer and hang out with certain cats. The cats get new toys weekly and have a few rather scant cat trees and soft places to rest.
As we walked near the glass walled enclosures for the cats, some of them ran over to rub up against the glass. Everyone cooed over their actions, but I felt sad. The cats and the dogs are supposed to get enrichment, which includes time with humans, but how can they ever give them enough? I saw a staff member enter a room and all the cats got up and ran over to her, desperate for attention. The cats would live there for lifetime, with an exceptional few who can be adopted into a home when they’re too old to be tested. I wanted to scoop them up and get them out of there. It’s hard to see animals who clearly need love, not be able to get enough of it. I understand that the people at Hill’s do their very best to provide for these animals, but in the end, it’s difficult to imagine how 65 people give 900 animals enough love and attention.
©2012 Hill's. Daphne. (used with permission)
I asked about what happens when a cat gets too old to be tested or develops health problems where they can no longer provide good test results...
…find out in my final post tomorrow.
I'm thrilled to let you know that on Thursday Leo had the surgery he's needed for a few months. Until recently, he wasn't well enough for the procedure to repair his inverted eyelashes. This happened due to the most hideous, horrible upper respiratory infection I have ever seen. It sealed his eyes closed, then MOSS grew over his closed eyes. We don't know how long he suffered like that, but are ever so glad this friendly stray was rescued and given proper Vet care.
©2012 Hilary Harris. Used with permission. Leo after his surgery.
Leo is positive for Feline Leukemia which also makes every procedure a bit more risky. Now that Leo is on the mend we couldn't be happier.
Leo wouldn't have had a chance if not for the loving care he receives at Aslan's Sanctuary in upstate New York. Aslan's is one of the few sanctuaries that takes on Feline Leukemia positive cats. They are in short supply of just about everything you can think of so if you'd like to thank them for what they do for Leo and others, you can donate HERE.
I had the privilege of transporting Leo to Aslan's and he certainly left a paw print on my heart. If you want to know Leo's backstory and see him before he got any treatment, read my post HERE and follow up, HERE.
Way to go, Hilary and HURRAY FOR LEO!