Vets

Calling All Angels for Jackson Galaxy (the cat)

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.

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©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.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Waiting for Dr. Larry.

 

The report from the cardiologist just came in. Jackson’s heart is in bad shape. Dr. April describes his condition as “Severe, Advanced Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy.”

 

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.

With Dr Larry.jpg
©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.

It’s possible that just going to the Vet could push Jackson over the edge.

 

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©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.

We can’t sedate Jackson, so how do we expose him to a long car ride AND an exam at the cardiologist?

 

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©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?

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Home from the Vet, Jackson still prefers to hang out in the cat carrier.

 

I took a chance on rescuing an adult cat, but I never thought it would mean taking on one with a fatal heart condition.

 

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.

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©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.

 

Jackson is supposed to get better. I want his story to have a happy ending, not a tragic one.

 

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I wrote most of this post yesterday before Dr. Larry told me about the severity of Jackson’s heart condition. After a brief discussion…

…it was clear to both Sam and myself that Jackson already found his angels-if I may be so bold to refer to ourselves like that. We’ve decided we’re going to keep Jackson here where he’ll become the face of Kitten Associates.

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.

 

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©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.

Will the Real Jackson Galaxy Please Stand Up?

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.

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©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.

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©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.

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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.

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©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.

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©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.

Jackson jumped onto Cricket, BIT him on the back of the neck, then grabbed him and literally threw him off the cat tree! Cricket fell to the floor, screaming. Clumps of his fur scattered around the living room. He ran off and hid, terrified at what had just happened.

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.

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©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.

I sat and thought about it and something clicked. Hyperthyroidism. It would explain his late night howling and eagerness to eat. It would also explain this sudden irrational behavior and it can be the root cause of heart problems/HCM.

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©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.

the DOOD falls down, goes boom

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.

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©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.

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©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.

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©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.

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©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.

Recently he figured out there's a big covered bucket of kibble in the basement. It's for our feral cat, but he can pry the container open if he really tries. Sam found him inside the bucket gorging himself one night so he fortified access to the basement spiral staircase-then DOOD was injured a few days later.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Yes, DOOD is high.

I fear DOOD fell down the spiral staircase.

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.

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©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?

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©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.

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©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.

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©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.

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For the Love of Jackson

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.

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©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.

 

In honor of everyone who re-tweeted, shared on Facebook, dug deep into their pockets, please accept my most sincere THANK YOU. Thank you Jackson Galaxy for posting our plea on your Facebook page and letting your fans know your namesake needed help. Thank you to Jill Delzer for being super-awesome-a shoulder to cry on, to Katherine at Animals in Distress for soothing my soul and helping us pay for Jackson's much needed echocardiogram.

 

I'm truly grateful for every prayer, good wish and virtual hug. I know Jackson is, too.

 

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.

Jackson's Broken Heart

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.

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©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.

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©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.

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©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?

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©2012 Robin A.F Olson.

The other big question was; NOW WHAT? What would become of Jackson?

The brutal blow about all of this was the news I'd been keeping secret. Jackson was about to be adopted.

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.

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©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.

It's too early to say what Jackson's future holds. There's more to be done to find out the root cause of his heart ailments.

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.

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©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.

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©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.

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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!

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JACKSON GALAXY, THE CAT, FIGHTS FOR HIS LIFE

SEE END OF POST FOR IMPORTANT UPDATE

Looking out the windowRO.jpg
©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.

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©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.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.

I got Jackson in to see Dr. Larry this morning.

Jackson's temp was 105.1°F.

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.

 

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©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?

Jax looking up.jpg
©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.

 

We need to do: Blood work, Sedation, IV catheter (to help break his fever), X-rays to find out if he has an injury or internal problem plus exam and boarding costs. Then we start praying he doesn't need to go to the ER Vet if the IV has to stay in place after hours because we can't afford it and the ER Vet doesn't do payment plans.

 

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.

 

We REALLY NEED YOUR HELP to provide care for Jackson.

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:

Kitten Associates
P.O. Box 354
Newtown, CT 06470-0354

Any funds not used for the care of this family will go into our General Fund.

If you can't make a donation, you can help us by getting the word out. Every dollar helps and every Re-tweet or FB Share does, too. THANK YOU for caring about Jackson!

 

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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.

Xray Jackson.jpg
©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.

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©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.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Getting Oxygen before we run him to Shoreline.

 

Bottom line, Jackson has HCM or Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. It's VERY difficult to diagnose without doing an echocardiogram. Jackson's probably had this for a long time. Jackson's probably not 2 years old-more like 5.

 

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.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Jackson meowing. A bit perkier. Maybe a sign of hope?

 

Will Jackson have a future? I don't know. Will he be adopted? Probably not. Did Jackson find his forever home with us? I don't know, but I DO know we love him and hope he comes home tomorrow feeling better.

 

Hill’s Pet Nutrition Center-The Tour, Part Three

[if you missed part one, you can read it HERE and part two is HERE]

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.

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©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.

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©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.

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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?

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©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.

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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.?

-----------THE TOUR----------------------------------

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©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!

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©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.

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©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.

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©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.

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©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.

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©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.

My wish, if I could have one, would be that they re-think their approach to developing foods for cats and dogs that doesn’t lean so heavily on science and testing, but that focuses on wholesomeness and appropriateness with fewer ingredients and grains.

 

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.

I also “get it” that asking Hill’s to use high quality meat in their food, to throw out the zillion bags of dry food and focus on canned and yes, a line of frozen raw food would be a sourcing nightmare. Where would you GET all this meat? What would happen to all the farmers who you buy your corn, wheat, soy and rice from?

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?

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.

 

All I can say is that my hand is held out in friendship to everyone at Hill’s. Take your financial resources, your science, your advertising and DO THE RIGHT THING with it. You know what it is, you just have to turn the rudder a bit. I’ll be waiting for you, ready to shout to the world what wonderful, completely perfect foods you create and that we'll all share the rewards of a longer, healthier, happier life with our pets for all that you do.

 

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.

Hill’s Pet Nutrition Center-The Tour, Part Two

[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.

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©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…

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©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.

I can’t agree that six months is a long enough time to see the effects a specific diet will have on an animal especially when you realize that consumers will potentially feed their pets this food for 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?

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©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!

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©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.

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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.

Animal Testing

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.

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©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.

There are 65 people caring for over 900 animals.

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.

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©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.

Tags Click a link below to find more articles on that topic.

Update on Leo

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.

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©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!

Hill’s Pet Nutrition Center-The Tour, Part One

I was invited by Hill’s to tour their Pet Nutrition Center in Topeka, Kansas and to listen to a number of presentations by Vets, Vet-Nutritionists, Scientists and staff. They also opened the doors to their state-of-the-art, very high-security manufacturing plant in Emporia, Kansas for an additional tour. They paid for my trip and accommodations, but not for my review, concerns or approval of their products or processing methods. This blog post series is based on my personal experience and opinion, only. Your experiences and opinions may differ.

Arrival

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Welcome Bloggers

I had a lot of apprehension about going on this trip. As many of you know, I’m a diehard believer in “species appropriate” diets for cats. Translation: I feed a raw diet to my cats with no grain, no preservatives, no chemicals; just meat, egg yolks and a few other things like extra taurine and salmon oil. There are Vets, Vet Associations and pet food companies who would tell you that you risk sickening your cats and yourself with Salmonella and other food borne illnesses and that you should never feed a raw meat diet to your cat, while there are other organizations and Vets who believe differently.

Without getting into an argument about what IS the perfect diet for cats, my other apprehension was simple; I’m just a lone blogger. My net worth equals the change you might find in Hill’s lobby sofa cushions. Does this “David” dare to speak up about a “Goliath” of the pet food industry? Do I have the nerve to write about something where I can be subject to scrutiny, blacklisting or worse; accusations of libel or lawsuits?

I will tread respectfully and as thoughtfully as possible.

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Hill’s is a multi-billion dollar company whose parent company is Colgate-Palmolive. Being their guest was frankly a bit intimidating. I knew they knew my position on appropriate diet for cats so I couldn’t understand why they’d want me to see their operations. I decided to be as open-minded as I could and just listen to what they had to say.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. I am definitely not in New York any more.

Arriving at Kansas City International airport, I expected to be tossed onto a shuttle bus and driven the hour-long ride to the Hyatt Topeka. I was surprised to be met by a cheerful driver and my friend, Angie Bailey (of the infamous CatladyLand), who’d just arrived from Minneapolis and who was also going on the tour.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Angie and me livin' large by our private car.

The driver carried my bag and escorted us to a waiting black, shiny livery car with cushy back seats and bottled water waiting to refresh us. I admit to feeling pampered and possibly a bit more nervous about what this tour was going to mean to my future. Clearly Hill’s was going to take good care of us on this trip.

The schedule was tightly paced. We had about 90 minutes after we arrived at the Hyatt to get ready for welcome dinner at the Kansas Museum of History. I entered my room and took a deep breath as I scanned the large, modern furnished space. Before me was a sitting room, wet bar, huge flat screen tv, along with a segregated space containing two freshly made double beds. Again, I expected less and got more. I was told when I got my room key that whatever I needed I should just put on the Hill’s tab. Yikes. Is this what life is like for a rock star? I could get used to this.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. One end of my palatial room.

I got unpacked then met with Angie and an acquaintance, Teri Thorsteinson, a Vet Tech who writes Curlz and Swirlz. Teri had two little bottles of champagne in her room and was determined we start the trip off right. The three of us shared a toast and a few laughs before we left for the museum. Even though I didn’t know Teri very well, I had a feeling she was going to become a good friend with a start like this.

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I enjoyed having dinner at a Museum after hours when all the tours for the day had left. The group of media people and bloggers was fairly small, only about 14 people plus a few folks from Hill’s, so it felt much more informal. I kept waiting for the pitch about Hill’s products to start, but it didn’t come. We just chatted and got to know each other then finally, barely 25 minutes before we were scheduled to leave, we got to run around the museum and look at some of the exhibits.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Angie, me and Teri (left to right). Why we're leaning over I have no idea.

Of course Angie, Teri and I ran for the gift shop. There wasn’t one in the hotel and we had hoped to find some trinkets with the Wizard of Oz theme to bring home to our loved ones. This was my first visit to Kansas after all.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Real train inside the museum surrounded by other artifacts.

Though the museum was quite enjoyable to explore, the gift shop left us wanting. This was a business trip, darn it! We’re not really there to have fun, but somehow we managed to squeeze in a few laughs and take delight in hearing that one specific seat on the REAL Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe locomotive inside the building was haunted!

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Angie afraid she'll be vaporized while sitting on the haunted seat.

The next day’s schedule was jam-packed and we had to get up around 6AM, which was NOT my idea of a good time. We had to be ready to board the bus for the Pet Nutrition Center (PNC) at 7:15AM. I never sleep well in a hotel, but luckily for me, for the first time in my life, after I had a quick shower, as soon as my head hit the pillow, I passed out cold.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Wonderful vintage McDonald's neon sign.

I had weird dreams about the garage doors at my Mother’s house collapsing, falling and crushing my car. The next morning I realized it was the 6th anniversary of her passing. As I got ready to leave my room, I thought about her and my throat tightened as I remembered finding her passed away. I wondered what she would have thought about me going on this trip. I guessed she would have given me grief that I care what I feed my cats. She fed my cat Bob Dole (he was her cat before he lived with me) Friskies® dry and wet. His teeth were so bad that 6 had to go the day after my Mom died and I took Bob to my Vet before bringing him into my home. In time, Bob ended up loving raw food and regained back some of the vitality he’d lost, but sadly not his teeth.

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Tour. Day One.

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©2012 Hill's. Used with permission. Hill’s Pet Nutrition Center, Aerial View

Hill’s Pet Nutrition Center is set up like a college campus with a central grassy courtyard, surrounded by two storey buildings. Wearing security badges, we were escorted into an underground lecture room that could also be used as a tornado shelter (which I found amusing and a bit scary at the same time). Internet access was iffy and there was no cell service. We were asked to not take photos, which made me itchy. I couldn’t imagine what we could see in this room that we couldn’t show anyone in the world.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Tour badge.

We had assigned seats and at each place there was a name placard and some promotional goodies from Hill’s. Angie and I were separated by a few other visitors. I thought they may have done it on purpose since we seem to go into high-powered joke mode if we get too close to each other. It was for the best. Time to concentrate, stay strong, but open-minded and make sure I didn’t drink any Kool-Aid®.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Kostas Kontopanos (okay I snuck ONE photo).

First up was President of Hill’s USA, Kostas Kontopanos. Clearly we were not going to get a pitch from a junior executive. Mr. Kontopanos wasn’t going to say hello and rush off to a meeting, either. He was there for the day to share his vision and to listen to our questions. It was hard not to be impressed by how seriously Hill’s takes the paradigm shift of the past few years—people inherently do not trust marketing or advertising. With the advent of knowledgeable bloggers who have nothing to gain by speaking their mind about product quality or appropriateness, big companies are discovering that these bloggers strongly influence the purchasing power of their desired demographic. In fact, as with my own blog, my demographic of readers is their target audience—much moreso than they can reach through an ad agency. They knew what I said DID matter and my readers trust me. The itchy feeling returned as I listened to the presentation.

Hill’s is guided by its Mission:

“To help enrich and lengthen the special relationships between people and their pets.”

How they achieve or fail to achieve that goal is rather impressive. That they opened their doors and invited “transparency” was a smart move. Their fear is misinformation—that bloggers will declare their products are garbage or contain metal shavings or whatever you can dream up—and that the folks who read those blogs will believe what they say.

I’d like to think that anyone who writes a blog that includes information about pet nutrition would do some research before making such a declaration. Perhaps I read between the lines of Mr. Kontopanos presentation, that what Hill’s may fear most is that people will become more educated and realize that they might want to reconsider what food they purchase for their cat or dog once they understand a few basic tenets about nutrition.

But who controls the flow of that information?

Hill’s stable of Vets (they employ the second largest number of Vets in the world) is responsible for creating and updating their “Small Animal Guide to Clinical Nutrition.” The Guide can be found on the website of the Mark Morris Institute (MMI)—which was named after Hill’s founder Mark L. Morris, Sr., DVM.

The 5th Edition was released in 2010 at a cost of $130.00. (but I see it’s on Amazon for $14.75). This is THE guide Vets use to reference nutrition questions.

MMI.jpg

I find the link between MMI and Hill’s to be somewhat distressing. This may be completely innocent, but when you control the information about what makes up balanced nutrition, you affect the entire industry. It makes it easy to point a finger at any of the 175 other pet food companies in the US and say they don’t follow your guide, they don’t do clinical testing and therefore the food may not be balanced, which could make consumers fearful of making the wrong choice. We all want to do right by our pets, but understanding what “right” may be an ever-changing answer or perhaps it's been right under our noses all along?

On MMI’s website it states: “MMI provides pet nutrition education for veterinarians and students of veterinary medicine around the world.”
How better to color a Vet’s perception of what makes up an appropriate diet if the company controlled the flow of information about nutrition to Vets while getting their training?

Perhaps, this multi-million dollar research is guided purely by the passion of a company to ensure that all small animals get the best nutrition possible? But again, I’d ask, what is a “for profit” company’s ultimate goal? Maybe it’s both to make a profit and to educate? Maybe not.

To be fair, I’ve ordered a copy of the Guide to review and to compare with the other books on pet nutrition I’ve read already, but I can already sense what I’m going to be reading.

I spoke with my own Vet about this and he agreed that Hill’s makes it very easy for young Vets to get free products and education, but is that education completely balanced?

My Vet is constantly “courted” by Hill’s, Purina and Royal Canin. The representatives from those companies frequently ask him out to dinner and cajole him to only carry their product line. (he carries a few lines of each brand and says there are too many choices and it’s too confusing to try to carry any more than that).

Pet food industry sales are well into the billions of dollars. People WILL spend MORE for what they perceive is a better product. There's a lot at stake. How is Hill's going to stay competitive?

…part two next up…animal testing at Hill's.

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