Friday, August 7, 2015

Another One Comes Home

In my effort to be a responsible Maine Coon cat breeder, I have vowed to be ultimately responsible for the kittens I sell. This means that even though I sell them to screened, loving homes where they are intended to live long lives as part of a family for the duration of their feline lives, I will take them back if things don’t work out.
Not often, but once in a great while, my kittens have come back. It’s usually as adults, for various reasons; home foreclosure due to job loss, upheaval caused by divorce, severe allergies of a new family member and death of the owner. In virtually all the cases, the owners are distraught about giving their pet back, but realize I can find them a new home more easily than they can. It’s also in most breeders’ contracts to have first right of refusal if the original owner can no longer keep the animal. I would always take the cats back rather than risk them being put in less desirable situations, like an animal shelter.

Almost all of the cats that come back to me are on the younger side and are easily sold to new homes after a short adjustment period where I can have them vetted and assess them. It has always worked out well; a family gets a Maine Coon and a cat gets properly spoiled in a new home.

Recently, I’ve taken older cats back that I felt were too old to re-home. One cat I took back was Ray, a nine-year-old red tabby who I blogged about in February. Ray’s owner had died and Ray himself had been recently diagnosed with cancer.  We enjoyed Ray’s company for about four months before my vet helped him leave us to escape his cancer. 
Last week, I brought Ray’s mother, Boom Boom, home.  I took the 11-year-old cat back from my mother, with whom she’d lived for the past seven years in North Carolina since she retired from breeding (the cat, not my Mom). Some of my readers may remember Dracoonfly Cosseboom, one of the largest female Maine Coons I ever had the pleasure of showing. Even with her tell-tale torbie and white coloring that’s normally assigned only to females, Boom Boom was large enough that a couple of judges felt the need to verify her gender.  Sixteen pounds on a one-year-old Maine Coon is big, even for the boys. Boom Boom earned the titles of CFA Grand Champion and TICA Supreme Grand Champion. In 2008, she became a TICA Outstanding Dam which means five of her offspring also became Grand Champions.

I had not wanted to bring Boom Boom back like this. Unfortunately, between my mother’s liver cancer, her increasing memory loss and my step-father's limited mobility, Boom Boom has not been receiving the attention she needs.  My mother would complain about how much the cat vomited and scratched herself, yet neither she nor my step-dad, John, seemed to be able to take preventive steps.

I spent quite a bit of time and effort over the years, trying to educate Mom and John on the need to avoid feeding Boom Boom cat food with corn meal in the ingredients because of her skin sensitivities.  Cats are obligate carnivores and many pet food manufacturers use corn meal as a cheap source of protein. Cats are not designed to digest corn. Thus, corn meal is a primary reason for cats vomiting after eating. However, Mom and John kept going back to Meow Mix; it was easier to buy at the grocery store than go to a pet specialty store and invest in the better brands I recommended.

In addition to food allergies, Boom Boom also had fleas. Fleas are more difficult to deal with in the South as they hitch rides indoors on people. Keeping a cat indoors is not an absolute guarantee to avoid fleas. Having Revolution applied monthly on the back of her neck to prevent fleas never became a habit for poor Boom Boom. Instead, when Boom Boom scratched, the knee-jerk reaction was to put a Hartz flea collar on her. This was not only ineffective, but irritating to the cat’s sensitive skin. Thanks goodness they never tried Hartz Spot-on as that product (which is still out there for some reason) has been known to cause seizures and death in cats and dogs.

No surprise then that Boom Boom has bald spots and scabs on her. I know I should have taken her back sooner, but when your mother always talks about how much she enjoys the cat every time you talk on the phone and the last doctor’s report indicates her time is getting shorter, you rationalize leaving the cat as a therapy pet for a few more months. My sister and I increased our visits to Mom after we saw the situation last December, when Boom Boom was badly infested with fleas and she’d lost weight.  My mother actually had not noticed because the scratching had become normal for Boom Boom.  We used Revolution to get rid of the fleas and got her weight stabilized. We bought the better dry cat food, but would just return a month later to find Meow Mix again, because “Boom Boom didn’t like the new food”.  My family is just too spread out to make visits more frequently; Mom is in North Carolina, I’m in Connecticut, my sister lives in Minnesota and my brother in Arizona.

So last week my husband and I drove to North Carolina to visit Mom and prepared to return with a cat. We packed the large, collapsible dog crate I use to transport the cats to cat shows. It’s big enough for a litter box and a couple of Maine Coons. We had already checked Boom Boom for fleas and found none, but just in case, the last day Boom Boom was at Mom and John’s house, I gave her a Capstar pill and a bath. Capstar will kill any remaining fleas within 30 minutes and I wasn’t taking any chances of bringing the little blood-suckers in my house.  Mom asked if we wanted to take Boom Boom’s cat tree for her, but we didn’t want to take a chance on unhatched eggs either.  I have several cats, two dogs and no fleas. I want to keep it that way. The seven-foot cat tree went to the dump.

I was very nervous about the prospect of taking my mother’s cat away from her. I had a vision of Mom bursting into tears and begging me not to take Boom Boom. To offset this, I had bought Mom one of those realistic-looking stuffed cats that lies curled up and breathes with the help of a D battery as a substitute to sit on her recliner with her. I also enlisted my step-father’s support as I knew he was tired of taking care of the cat. If Mom forgot why Boom Boom was gone, I needed John to be able to give her gentle reminders. Mom just can’t do it anymore and although John likes Boom Boom, he has enough on his plate with his wife and his own limitations.  

John agreed that this would be best and backed me up. We told Mom that Boom Boom needed to come back home with me where I could take care of her. Mom was in agreement; she even thanked me several times for taking care of Boom Boom during the week we were down there. Mom tends to repeat herself, but I was happy she remembered what I was intending to do. Still, when the time came for us to leave, Mom burst into tears.

Why does this have to be so hard? Aging parents. Cancer. Dementia. Aging, neglected cats. In the end, we’re trying to make the best of a bad situation. Mom calmed down quickly, saying she hadn’t intended to cry. Something would be wrong with her if she weren’t upset. I know how much she loves this cat. I reminded Mom that seven years ago I had cried when she took Boom Boom away to live with her in North Carolina.

Now that Boom Boom has been back a week, she seems very happy. My mother still thanks me for taking care of the cat, and is getting used to being cat-less. Boom Boom doesn’t appreciate our other cats yet, but she clearly remembered our house, jumping immediately into our master bathroom window. Right now, she’s enjoying an itch-free lifestyle, learning to like new foods, and meeting the other cats one by one while she lives in our bedroom. When Boom Boom is ready, she’ll come downstairs on her own terms and take on the rest of the household. I’m relieved the transition is working out well and we’re happy to have Boom Boom back in the family.