No Comments »admin on January 11th 2009 in What happens when a family fosters 15-Year Old Cats
There was a story in the New York Times on January 1st about cloning pets. (”Beloved Pets Everlasting?” by Eric Konigsberg) One of the pet owners waxed poetically about the desirability of enjoying their dog for the equivalent of a human lifetime, as opposed to a dog lifetime. Hmmmm.
Personally, I have a hard time believing that it is possible to ‘clone’ an animal and recreate the same exact set of emotions and personality.
But I will admit that the cloning scenario breathes new life into the old nature vs. nurture debate: Are we (or our pets) the sum of a lifetime of experiences or simply the product of our genes? Or a mixture of both? I opt for the latter, in which case 100% duplication is not possible. Is it?
If we had not adopted a little Jack Russell Terrier recently, I might not be thinking about this at all. He is so friendly to adults and children alike we tend to think he has been very well treated throughout his life, if not genuinely loved. But as far as we can tell, we are his third, possibly his fourth owners. Why has he been passed around so much? It is a riddle.
When I look at him, I can’t help but think that the experiences we have with him today and tomorrow will be unique because he is (and we are). Therefore, the idea of trying to artificially extend our life with him or any beloved pet after its death — through a cloning procedure — strikes me as unrealistic.
Are attempts to clone pets an expression of their owners’ desire to exert superhuman control over mortal events? It sounds a bit like that. But, as an old friend of mine used to ask, how does that affect the price of tea in China? So, let’s just say it seems sad and ironic that in the USA where 5-7 million cats and dogs are being surrendered to shelters every year (like our own little terrier pal) and 3-4 million of them are being euthanized, there is money to be made in cloning dead pets.
Even if I took a hands-off position, “Caveat Emptor. It is not my business if someone wants to spend $150,000 to clone a pet,” I have to believe there is no such thing as replicating a dog’s personality in a cloning experiment. A pet’s personality (not unlike ours) will be a sum of genes and experience and the temperament and knowledge that grows out of that immeasurable brew.
In the case of our dog, we knew he would have a high energy requirement because he is a Jack Russell Terrier and they are thoroughly energetic. We expected him to be an intelligent little guy because his breed is known to be very smart. What we did not expect is that he would have a prenaturally calm disposition and be so well-prepared to bond with us at the relatively advanced age of eight (which is roughly middle age for a JRT).
When we got him, all we knew for sure was that he was loveable. We had no idea that he would insist on welcoming every single person he meets on the street, that he would invariably greet babies by licking their nose, that he would sit rockstill on my lap for hours at a time while I worked on a computer, or that he would be capable of sleeping through the night for eight or more hours curled in a ball on my pillow. These are the unexpected delights and we cannot imagine another dog, never mind a clone, replicating his generous spirit. Maybe that is the way it should be.
Ricky joined Shelter Me to produce a series of programs about animal rescue. For the first installment in his new series, “CATASTROPHES,” he visits Dotty Luff and meets the half dozen cats that she and Purr-fect Cat Shelter and the Animal Control Officer of Franklin look after. The cats’ feeding station is built on land that belongs to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; it is situated next to the Highwood Condomium in Franklin, MA, and became a flashpoint for controversy. See this situation from Ricky’s vantage point. He has a great hip hop sensibility.
An Interview with Dr. Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, MRCVS, one of the great animal behavioralists, about his new book. If you have ever wondered, as we have done, how to select a dog that matches your personal lifestyle and personality, this is superb reading.
Here is another one that comes very highly recommended…
Woody is now 13 1/2 years old, and we have been privileged to have him
as a barn cat for the last 7 1/2 years. Our former neighbor was moving
to Georgia. She was going to put Woody down because he had always been
their outdoor cat and she couldn’t take an outdoor cat with her.
Luckily, I met her for lunch and she told me about Woody. He just
happened to be hiding under a car when I pulled up in the driveway to
drop my neighbor off after our lunch. When I saw that he was orange, I
knew I had to save him! (We have a thing for orange cats).
Woody was a mess when we got him in early December, 2000. He was very
matted and terrified. But he loved people and loved being in the heated
feed room. He had previously lived in an unheated garage. Although we
would carry him all over the barn, into the hay loft and up to the
horses, Woody did not leave the feed room for 6 months. Tricia, our
barn manager, finally enticed him out with treats. He is one of the
most food motivated creature in the world. And yes, he is a great
We always joked that Woody looked like a bowling ball on legs, but in
2002, Tricia noticed that he was drinking and urinating an inordinate
amount. She suspected he had diabetes, so we had him tested. He had
indeed developed diabetes so we started him on shots. All of us have
learned to give sub-cutaneous shots, which are actually very easy to
give. After a period of close monitoring (blood tests, which Tricia
could draw) we settled into a routine of one morning shot each day and
special DM food for diabetic cats. The DM food is high protein, low
carb, and is available at any vet’s office.
Woody is not only a fixture at our barn, but is beloved by many of the
neighborhood walkers who walk by our farm each day, and stop to pet him.
He is the friendliest of cats, with an extremely soft coat, that he
keeps very clean. He is fearless around the horses, and follows Tricia
out to the paddocks when she turns the horses out in the morning. He
comes out to keep our daughter Sara company when she is teaching a
lesson and if there are people sitting on the viewing stand, he will
come and join them. The Minuteman ARC crew who cleans the stalls on
weekdays dote over Woody and give him lots of love and pets. Our horse
vet has privately told me that Woody is one of his top 5 favorite cats.
At first I thought I was doing a good deed by rescuing Woody, but it
turns out that we were the lucky ones, because he is one of the best
creatures who lives on our farm!
The Ahaaa! Moment
Checking the Kittens
Cleaning the Cage (while cats are in it)
Yesterday morning during cat volunteerism, I had an incident with a cat named Alfredo. I had literally just come in and was unlocking all of the cages and when I got to Alfredo’s cage and opened it a crack to pet him, all I saw was a black blur as he shot out of the cage like a cannon and started running wildly across Petco.
I high-tailed it after him and noticed that, in mid-flight, he had managed to spot a dead mouse laying on the floor between two aisles and picked it up in his mouth and kept running. As you can imagine, this gave me a few seconds edge on him and I managed to corner the intrepid feline in the dog food aisle. But then he ran deep under some shelves. Flinging myself to the floor, I saw him pawing at the mouse and realized that there were only seconds before he ingested the mouse which was probably poisoned to death, and I would be indirectly responsible for a feline casualty.
While I could not reach Alfredo no matter how hard I strained to reach him under the shelf, I could in fact reach the deceased rodent. Glancing desperately around the floor, I spotted a stray piece of discarded plastic wrap and grabbed hold of the debris. I then reached under the shelves and extracted the mouse by its tail using the plastic wrap as a makeshift antibacterial shield. Realizing that if I dragged the rodent across the floor, simulating a lifelike rodent’s movements, I could possibly draw the crouching Alfredo from his lair; I did so.
Seeing the mouse magically come to life, Alfredo was duped and he crept out to reclaim his stolen prize. I then grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and was met with outraged pandemonium of growls, yowls, hisses, claws and teeth. Despairing, I was about to admit defeat when Alfredo, my arch nemesis, grabbed hold of the deceased mouse again in vengeful teeth. I carried cat, mouse, and all to the cage and had a somewhat disgruntled Petco employee extract the offensive corpse. One thing is for certain: neither Alfredo nor I will ever be the same.
Tuesday was the day slotted to catch Jane and take her to the Vet for her spaying.
Oh, more than just that; we had scheduled shots and all that stuff you have to do to make sure your pets stay alive in this harsh world. I carefully planned how I would catch her and confided this to Morene.
“I think it should be easy. Jane loves treats, so I will take a cat carrier and line up a path of cat treats leading into the carrier. I’ll put that carrier on my desk and not pay much attention to her as she follows the treat trail into the carrier. And, when she has walked all the way to the back of the carrier, I will close the door and, voila, I’ll have her!”“Brilliant, huh?”
“What about Wolfie and Nina?” Morene said. Inferring that if I cleverly laid out this trail of treats, these two, not Jane, would wind up in the carrier.
“I’ll put Nina and Wolfie out on the screen porch.” I said, somewhat smugly. Hey, I had a plan. Morene continued her cross-examination of my plan and mostly focused on her concern for how Nina and Wolfie would face the harsh cold of winter while on the screen porch.
“Morene, don’t worry … it’s actually quite mild outside and they will only be out there for a few minutes.” I said, quite confidently. Jane loves treats
.So, I picked up Wolfie and put him out on the porch. Closed the door and got Nina – put her on the porch floor and slammed the door before both cats could sneak back in. Immediately, Wolfie started going insane and repeatedly threw himself at the outside of the cat door. He started climbing up the people door and scratching at the window. He growled and cried.
Nina calmly sat in front of the door looking at me looking at them, and watched Wolfie’s meltdown. She was like Big Nurse in One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest.Jane loves Wolfie passionately. This thought bombarded me while witnessing Wolfie’s insanity.
OK, I went back to my desk and arranged the cat carrier and trail of treats. I shook the treat can to lure Jane on to my desk. She jumped up and I tossed a treat to the start of the trail. She started eating the trail, all according to plan.I stealthily watched while pecking at my keyboard.Jane had her front paws in the crate.She raised her head and listened.She heard her lover outside in the midst of his meltdown, a never ending groaning and throwing himself against the door. She jumped off my desk and ran to the other side of the door and started meowing to Wolfie.This was not in the plan.But, I had “Plan-B” – smelly, irresistible, treats. I replaced the trail with smelly treats, shook the treat can, and Jane ran back to my desk. I held a smelly treat in my fingers and waved it under Jane’s nose. Threw that treat to the start of the treat-trail and she followed as if in a hypnotic daze. Steadily she ate the trail and steadily moved into the crate.
OK, I forgot to tell you one thing. Jane is the fastest cat alive. When she moves, it is a blur. She reminds me of those Verizon commercials about fiber optics … you know where the guy runs to
Jane was now fully into the crate and I could see this out of corner of my eye. I concentrated on what I had to do – it was in the plan. I had to turn 75 degrees to my right, reach out 2 feet, and close the crate door. I had to do this in a flash. I concentrated and willed myself into a Zen state. In a blinding flash I turned, reached, and closed. Jane was out of the crate before I turned and ran to hide behind my credenza.I was stunned. It was like she had been to
I needed “Plan C.”I called Morene and was somewhat belligerent in my stupefaction and anger at having been foiled by a little kitty. She asked some questions and I was quite short with her.
While I was on the phone, Wolfie was still throwing himself against the door and meowing pitifully.
Plan C was quickly formulated and involved setting up a Havaheart trap in my office with a whole can of wet kitty food as bait. Irresistible. Perfect. Foolproof.I went back to the house and got the Havaheart trap and the wet kitty food. I set the trap up with the irresistible wet kitty food in my office near the stairs, quite confident that Jane would come out from behind the credenza and visit Wolfie (on the other side of the porch door) to console him in his anguish. All the time Wolfie is throwing himself against the door, clawing away at the locked cat door, and mournfully meowing.
As I left I looked out on to the porch to watch all this. Nina had not yet moved and looked up at me as if she were Siddhartha. I went over to the house and told Morene that it should not take any more than 30 minutes to trap Jane. I read the NY Times and calmed down. I was confident. I had a plan.After 30 minutes, I got up and announced to Morene that I would immediately take Jane to the Vet in the trap. I kissed her with confidence.So, I walked over to my barn office, opened the door, and walked up the steps.
The trap was empty, still un-sprung, with the wet kitty food still in it. Sitting next to the trap, inside my office, were Wolfie and Nina, calmly looking at me with Cat-smiles. I looked to the cat door – indeed, Wolfie had busted through the locking mechanism with some super-human effort. A lock that is supposed to stop a Raccoon or a Fisher Cat.Foiled.I called Morene and said that it was a “no go” for the spaying that day. I took out the kitty food can and put it on the floor; put the trap on the deck, and left feeling incredibly defeated.Next day, the kitty food was gone, and Jane came up to me as if nothing had ever happened.
This past summer, I was dropping my cousin off at the local auto shop and saw a worn out and dirty looking black and white cat. I got out of my car and the cat came up to me and rubbed against my outstretched hand. I asked the owner about her, found out her name was Bootsy, that she had a bed and food inside the auto shop, but was in essence a stray. The owner also informed me that she was having three or four litters every year, and when I asked why he didn’t spay her he said it was too much money. I braced myself for a full fledged debate on why he should let me spay Bootsy- the rampant overpopulation, the dangers of uterine cancer - and found myself surprised when he quickly agreed to let me take Bootsy to get spayed.
Three days later, I brought Bootsy to the vet. (In the waiting room I discovered that Bootsy HATES dogs. A cute little terrier came up and tried to sniff Bootsy’s cage, and she almost knocked her carrier over trying to get to the dog.) When I brought her in to see the vet, he told me that she was pregnant. I asked if he was sure, and the vet told me that he could feel four kittens.
In the world of shelters and rescue operations the normal thing to do would be to abort the kittens. With anywhere from 4-6 million healthy cats and kittens being euthanized each year because there are not enough homes for them; it is almost selfish to bring more into existence. But my vet was not comfortable doing this; the kittens were too far along. So, I left the clinic, brought Bootsy back to the auto shop, and tried to figure out who I could cajole into fostering her.
The next day, I somehow managed to convince my friend, Lucy and her mother Barbara, to foster Bootsy (and her not yet born kittens). Triumphantly, I called up the owner of the auto shop and informed him that I was going pick up Bootsy. As a side note, he mentioned that Bootsy had a huge bump on her side. I rushed over to see how bad it was and discovered an abscess the size of a fist violently protruding from her shoulder. I brought her to the vet and was informed that if she had gone much longer with this wound, she would have died. Boosty had to undergo a tricky surgery and I kept her at the vet for 10 days since she had to have a tube inserted into her to drain the wound.
Unfortunately, when an unvaccinated animal gets any kind of wound, it is labeled a wound of unknown origin. The string of logic then goes that this wound could have been inflicted by the bite of another animal and thus, the attacking animal could have transmitted rabies to Bootsy. Because of this, Massachusetts state protocol demands that any unvaccinated animal with a wound of unknown origin go into quarantine for 6 months. The first thing on the list of what the state thinks you should do in this situation is to euthanize the animal. Seeing as how this was not an option in my mindset, I managed to convince Lucy and Barbara to keep Bootsy for the quarantine.
This past August 5th (2007), Bootsy gave birth to three black and white kittens and one orange and white kitten that we named Banana. She is one of the best mothers I have ever seen. She would come out of her birthing box to eat, accept a few pats and then go back and nurse her young.
The black and white kittens are Huckleberry (also known as Mr. Moustache), Blackberry (Bootsy the sequel), and Blueberry. The odd kitten out is Banana (or Creamsicle depending on whom you ask) and is a kittenwar.com champion for her pretty looks.