Google Hemingway’s Cat and there is an iconic image of Maine Coon sitting on the desk with the writer behind him. He could be Oliver’s great, great, great, great grandfather…in cat years, of course. But you see, Oliver should already have been in the grave a week ago, well, today. that is if we had listened to the doctors.
It all started with our dog. Oliver has always been a very emotional and moody animal. When we brought home Blue, our rescue dog, Oliver began to have urinary distress. Fun topic, I know. But he would strain in the litter box with little or no effect, and he was quickly in pain. Turned out it was a hysterical reaction to the new dog. After a few prescribed muscle relaxers and Oliver was good as new.
The doctor warned that there were increased crystals in his bladder, something Maine Coons are prone to apparently. Switching to wet food, she said, would solve the problem. It didn’t. Two weeks later the same issue returned, this time with a vengeance. Within a couple of days Oliver was in terrible agony. This time we took him to the Uptown Animal Hospital, an upscale veterinary clinic in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood. A lot of money in that neighborhood. That’s important to the story.
Oliver had a blockage. For cats, male cats, that can lead very quickly to a ruptured bladder and excruciating death. Oliver needed hospitalization and a catheter was inserted to clear the blockage. We’d gotten him help just in time, but then something else happened.
Money was an issue, and at the $900 dollar mark we had to consider all of this carefully. That’s when, in our opinion, the high pressure tactics started. Again, Oliver is a very sensitive cat, and animals don’t really understand hospitals. From their perspective they have been rejected or abandoned, or punished by the humans they trusted most. It is all very confusing and frightening to an animal. Quickly, the intersection between an animal’s recovery and feeling abandoned or imprisoned in an unfamiliar space becomes a critical component in treatment and recovery. Weighing all of that, his initial positive response to treatment, and our beleaguered finances, we informed the hospital and doctor that we needed to explore alternative treatment options.
The doctor, a co-owner of the clinic, wouldn’t hear of it. She wouldn’t consider the holistic outpatient treatments we had researched and flat out scoffed at training me to manipulate Oliver’s bladder, asserting that I would do more harm than good. The doctor was unequivocal and recommended we put him down She even offered to put Oliver down after we got off the phone, and again repeated that a number of times at the hospital. The only option, she said, was to keep him, at a cost potentially of many thousands of dollars more with a questionable prognosis, at the hospital. Considering at that point if maybe I should be put to sleep, they offered financing at reasonable interest rates. Right.
Meantime I visited a small pet boutique in the neighborhood. The young clerk, after hearing the story recommended an herbal tonic. She pointed to a fat gray cat on the counter and said that she was told two years ago the same thing about him. For a little over $10, a far cry from going into more deb,t I picked up a small bottle of Animals’ Apawthecary Tinkle Tonic Cat and Dog Supplement.
Now bladder manipulation sounds a tad, well, rustic, but its much gentler and much less odder that it sounds. When a cat’s bladder is distended it is quite easy to feel on the belly just between the hind legs. Very gentle, almost imperceptible tummy massages seem to have worked wonders so far. Why the doctor refused to consider showing us that was egregious. How hard would it have been to spend a few moments of instruction, but they seemed all about the money, and, failing that, simply disposing of the cat; as if that was part of the-pardon the pun-drop dead sales pitch.
Oliver was still drugged when I picked him up. I looked at the poor little guy, after just fending off, barely, the pressure to put him to sleep. The following day, Sunday, would be daunting for us and especially for Oliver. We were told that he likely would die in agony within a day or two. Still, that didn’t prevent them from giving me a week’s worth of medicated food that we were told he would need for life. Incidentally, that very expensive food can only be purchased, they pointed out, at the hospital. Convenient, but for whom I am not quite sure.
It has been more than a week, and knock on wood, Oliver is heading for a full recovery. He’s a gentler cat now, with no more pain, a better diet, and he runs around and plays like a little maniac. And he loves his light tummy massages. When I think, standing in that examining room, the immense and unrelenting pressure to put Oliver to sleep I am utterly shaken. I shudder to think that it was, at least in part, a very cynical and cruel way to squeeze a bit more money out of someone, essentially but holding a pet hostage. I almost agreed, but something told me not to give in to the pressure or give up on Oliver. I wonder how many pet owners simply succumb to that sort of pressure, and how many pets fall victim?