Friday, February 13, 2015

Back to the Fold

Responsible breeders of purebred animals have an unwritten code of ethics to be available for the entire life of the creatures born in their home.  Many of us have contractual agreements with our clients to be notified in the event that they can no longer keep their pet.  Over the years, I’ve taken my Maine Coon kittens back as adults because of financial hardship/loss of home, divorce, major health issues in the family, and death of the owner.  In all of these cases, I was able to find a new home for the cat so they only had to live with us a couple of months.  Until now.
Part of the musical litter named Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La and Ti, Ray (Re) was kept and shown as a neutered male. He had mitral valve dysplasia pretty severely as a kitten so I wasn’t sure initially how long he would live. As Ray developed, his heart did too, and although he kept his heart murmur, his cardiologist no longer considered it life-threatening.  Dracoonfly Renegade Ray was shown to the title of CFA Grand Premier and TICA Supreme Grand Champion Alter. 
Six years later, I decided Ray would be happier if he could be a spoiled only child. He had become increasingly unhappy with some of the other cats.  I placed him with Ella, a widow who lived in a lovely elder apartment community.  Ella’s daughter, Linda, had been looking for an adult cat to provide companionship for her aging mother and Ray was a perfect fit.  I even went to visit Ray about six months after he joined Ella to check in on him.  Ray and Ella had bonded beautifully.
Last week, Linda informed me that her mother had passed. Linda couldn’t keep cats in her own apartment so would I take Ray back? She was overwhelmed with the death of her mother and needed to have one less worry. Of course, I’d love to see Ray again, I told her.
Just one thing, Ray isn’t well.  Just a couple of weeks before, she noticed he’d lost weight.  Her vet ran several  tests and an abdominal mass around Ray’s gall bladder was discovered last month. His prognosis was not good. Ray would be coming home to die.  Linda had her husband drop Ray off the next day, with all his toys, brushes, scratching post, food and litter. She included a thank you card with money to help with his medical expenses.
So now I have him, my big red “Ray Ray”, my “Rainman”; “Superman” to my granddaughter. He was gone for three years, but clearly remembered his old buddies Bugger, Bubba and Chardonnay. The rest of the clan isn’t too sure what to think of the intruder (he’ll be an intruder until he smells more like my house), but they’re getting used to it. He still looks like the 20-pound cat that left me, but feeling through his heavy coat to his body tells a different story. Ray has lost four pounds and he feels very bony underneath all that hair. Once we get all the mats out, his weight loss will probably be even more apparent.
Ray’s vet has transferred his records to mine and she’s in agreement that with his age, weight loss, the elevated white blood count and the mass, Ray probably has cancer. Gall bladder disease is extremely rare in cats so it’s not as simple as removing the organ. The only way to know for sure would be to do exploratory surgery and I don’t want to put him through that.
As a breeder, I track the health of my kittens, just in case a genetic problem presents itself. However, Ray is considered an older cat at nine.  His sire, dam and six littermates are all doing well.  Sometimes, shit happens. 
Ray still seems happy; he eats well and loves to have his head rubbed, but I know he’s stressed with all the changes in the past week.  His purr should reassure me that he feels okay, but I know that purring is also a cat’s way of managing pain so I can’t use that as a barometer.  I have to watch his appetite, his litter box, his activity level and track his weight.  He’s had diarrhea so that’s worrisome. So now I’m in charge of Ray’s quality of life, a job I’ve unfortunately learned over the years. I’m not one for heroics, nor do I ever want prolong the inevitable for my own selfish reasons.  In situations like these, I watch the cat closely and try to put myself in their place.  Ray’s time with us may be short this go around, but he’s still my Ray Ray.