September 18, 2017

Casper: Rescuing a Special Needs Cat

I wanted a cat a month after getting married. If you know me, that won’t surprise you. If you really know me, you might wonder why I waited so long. As a dog person, I wanted a puppy more than a cat, but we lived in a small apartment. And our landlord, my mother-in-law, had a no-pet policy.

So, no dogs. But I felt lonely in our small apartment. Spencer was out late most nights working on his business. We had no TV, no couch, no table even (we set up four TV trays to get by). So, I thought I could convince her to let me have a cat. But not just any cat. A Maine Coon.

I fell in love with Maine Coons when I learned they were the closest pet you could get to a dog. They were large, friendly, and very affectionate. Some people even get them to play fetch or walk on a leash. When my parents said no to another dog, I tried for a Maine Coon. They said no to that too. Still, many years later, out on my own, I wanted one.

But no-pet policies were the least of my concerns. Kittens went for $600, and while I generally have nothing against responsible breeding, I couldn’t stomach the cost. Not when my sister-in-law had a gaggle of kittens overpopulating her front yard. So, I looked for a Maine Coon rescue, and wouldn’t you know, I found one.

Mine for Keeps

I will be honest. While I support rescue work, I am wary of rescuing myself. Most people I meet with a rescue either have a diamond in the rough or a wild inconvenience (sometimes even demon). Dog or cat, doesn’t matter. Rescues to me are  mostly work, come with baggage, and unless you’re lucky, have some sort of socialization issue.

Now before anyone jumps to the comments section to rave about your rescue pet or rescues in general, I think we all need to be realistic. Rescue isn’t for everyone. It is no good to rescue a pet with problems you can’t manage. Ultimately, that’s how animals cycle back into the system. I take pride in knowing myself. I know what I and my lifestyle can handle in a pet, and a few rescues I’ve seen fit the bill for me.

I’ve also lost too many pets due to issues my family couldn’t handle. Growing up I had three dogs, and two cats, all of which were rehomed in some capacity. I won’t lay blame on my parents, or myself, for our ignorance in pet care, but I can say that it was devastating. I made a promise to myself a long time ago that I would never rehome a pet for as long as I lived. No matter the cost. It was until death do us part in my opinion.

So there couldn’t be trouble, nothing complicated that would ever cause me to consider surrendering a pet.

Thus, if I was to rescue a Maine Coon, it had to meet four criterion:

  1. Absolutely no litter-box issues whastsoever (the linchpin in convincing my MIL to let me have a cat in a no-pet apartment). The two cats we had growing up decided to spray over the whole house, 10 years in, resulting in my parents surrendering them. I was not going to go through that again.
  2. Good with kids, dogs, men, women, and all of the above. Dogs and children were certainly in our future, and I would not deal with locking up a cat if he decided he hated one of our friends.
  3. No chronic health conditions. We were on a budget. I just couldn’t afford it.
  4. And not a staunch requirement, but I wanted it to be cute.

So with my list in hand, I scoured the rescue lists. And lo and behold, there was Casper.

Rescuing Casper

I’m not sure I remember everything his listing said. I do have his pictures and remember that they described him as “the Dreamer.” He looked the part. He was gorgeous. All white, fluffy, and with a stunning face, I was smitten instantly. Everything seemed to be in order to – friendly with kids, other cats, with dogs. His only issue was a special diet, something that was a red flag for item number 3 on my list. But I couldn’t resist. I contacted his foster mom.

We went back and forth about all things Casper for a while. She said he was impeccable with the litter box but shed buckets. I could handle that, I thought. I wanted a life full of pets, and cat hair was the least of my troubles at the time. She also described how much he loved to be brushed, that he bumped heads with her affectionately, and was an all around love bug.

Then came the tough stuff. He’d been surrendered multiple times, losing a bonded friend along the way. She referenced stomach troubles, heavy steroids, and that his last owners surrendered him because they couldn’t afford the continued treatment. Apparently, the magical cure was just a free grain-free diet.

The food he was on didn’t seem to expensive, so I asked Spencer if we could adopt him. No lover of cats, but a lover of me, Spencer reluctantly said yes. Only one month into the apartment, and we were fortunate enough to be able to move into my father-in-law’s three bedroom rental, and would only have to be under no-pet restrictions for a month. My mother-in-law graciously allowed us to take him as long as I swore he had no litter box issues. I proudly assured her that he was quite the gentleman.

So, I submitted my application, got approved, arranged his transportation, and bought all the necessary things for my new baby to come home.

The First Few Days

I still remember Spencer stopping at my work to let me see him. I’d been buzzing with excitement all day, thinking about his long trip up from Kentucky. I ran to the backseat, and opened the door. There he was, blazing white in the carrier – and rubbing his face against the grates at me. I reached in a finger and rubbed his cheek and he purred. I felt ecstatic.

The rest of the work day dragged by, and Spencer sent me videos of Casper exploring the bathroom. That was his room for the first few days so he knew where the litter box was. I rushed home to them so I could get to know my knew fur baby. I was so happy. Our very first pet.

The first few days went by without much fuss. He cuddled with me, which was great. He spent lots of time crawling on my lap and nuzzling my face. Spencer even let him lay with us while we watched movies on my laptop (a regrettable decision, really. We slept on an air mattress and not long after Casper came home, it deflated nightly).

He loved to sleep on our chests, all fifteen pounds of  him. This was all I ever wanted in a cat and more. I dreamed about writing the next great American novel with him curled at my feet (more realistically, on my desk… okay on my keyboard). Not to mention that he used the litter box like a perfect gentleman the whole week. He was perfect.

Until Saturday.

The Trouble Begins

It was the most rank smell imaginable. We came into our apartment, and aside from the natural lingering stench of contraband cigarettes past, it was putrid. Gag-worthy.

I think most people assume their cat has the foulest smelling poop on the planet, but I dare you to meet Casper. Most people can attest that nothing is as awful as his, and all 15 (now 18) pounds of him leaves quite a load. And that day, after church, that load was on the carpet.

I was horror-struck. How could this have happened? He’d been perfect the whole week – why now? My gut reaction was anger, and fear of my mother-in-law finding out. But then it was confusion. It wasn’t solid stool, but gross and runny. Was that normal?

We cleaned it up as best we could. The carpet was honestly disgusting, so we probably left it better than when we got it, but I felt betrayed. But there was still hope. He was new. It was all new. Maybe he couldn’t get to the litter box or something had scared him. I tried to reassure myself that this would never happen again.

Only it happened every Saturday after that. Sure enough, every time we came home from church, there was poop on the carpet. Sometimes runny. Sometimes solid. Didn’t matter. I tried some research and removed the lid from his litter box, resolving to clean the box every day. I thought that perhaps he didn’t like us leaving on Saturday… which was odd because I left earlier than that for work. When he deviated from his Saturday tirades, I was even more confused.

But soon it was time to move, and I had my fingers crossed that everything would be better in a bigger, cleaner house. Only it wasn’t.

The Truth Comes Out

Casper continued to poop out of the litterbox. There never was a pattern either. Whether the litter box was clean or empty, whether we were home that day or away, it didn’t matter. There was a correlation between the construction we were doing on the house though. Just not regularly. And one time, he peed in a bunch of blankets when we had a lot of friends over.

But Casper was a good cat in every other way. I just couldn’t reason it out.

When we got our collie Cash, I wasn’t sure how it would influence the litter box issues. He did fine with the puppy, his naturally benevolent self trying to rub up on him when he was still enough. He wasn’t too bothered by the new addition, but he crawled onto us less when we were watching TV. That broke my heart a little.

As we were unpacking some boxes, I found his vet records. Pulling out the documents, out of pure curiosity, I was deeply troubled by the results. Casper had been surrendered twice – not because they had to pay for steroids. Because Casper was pooping outside of the litter box.

The words “doughy bowels” and “IBD” jumped out at me like lightning bolts. They rescue knew Casper had litter box trouble. Two weeks of a grain-free diet, and they thought he was fixed? Did they lie to me? Was this some kind rescue bait and switch? Or did they really believe that months of vet appointments from two different families had counted for nothing, and that all he had was a gluten allergy?

But I loved Casper. And I had said ’till death do us part. It was going to be a terribly long road.

Nothing Changes, No Matter What We Try

We moved again, to the much bigger house next door. Since the downstairs wasn’t renovated, we kept Casper and Cash upstairs. But when Casper managed to sneak past, he would inevitably poop on the old gnarly carpet in a back bedroom. I tried putting a litter box on it, and he just went next to it. Little blighter.

Then we got another cat, Pippin, in case Casper was lonely. He wasn’t sure how he felt at first, but they eventually bonded, and fought, like brothers. They were an incredibly adorable creamsicle pair, but it didn’t improve the litter box issue.

When one of our friend’s German Shepherd’s tore through our door barricading the downstairs, we knew we had to change things up. Casper now went downstairs to poop downstairs. We tore up the carpet in the bedroom. He persisted. We tore up the carpet it in the foyer. He persisted. We renovated the entire downstairs. Still. We put litter boxes over spots, added them downstairs and upstairs, moved them around.

None of these things positively fluenced his IBD situation. I finally resorted to taking him to the vet, where he promptly peed and pooped himself on the way over. The vet hypothesized  that it wasn’t likely IBD at all, but separation anxiety. So they prescribed Fluoxetine (kitty prozac) to calm his nerves.

Fluoxetine is an incredibly bitter pill, and no amount of cleverness got him to take it. I finally gave up, not wanting to force it down his throat. He had a thing about his face being grabbed and we were too busy, and worn out, to try. But we pressed on.

At Wit’s End

Here’s a comprehensive list of everything we tried:

  • Cleaning out the litter box daily or every other day. Casper would use the litter box (clean and unclean) for several days, just fine. Then I’d clean it. Then he’d poop next to it or somewhere else. To be honest – we could have been much better about this. But while it may have had SOME influence, he’s pooped elsewhere when it’s perfectly clean, just cleaned, fresh litter, etc.
  • Putting the litter box on top of places he’s pooped. He poops next to it. (4-5 locations over the last few years).
  • He seemed intrigued by an outside cat that had adopted us, patting at the window whenever she came by. I consulted some friends and thought he might be interested in a companion, so we rescued a kitten. While the two do like each other, this didn’t solve anything either. Didn’t necessarily make it worse, although that’s what we thought at first.
  • Adding Feliway infusers throughout the house, particularly where our other cat and he common most frequently (and most frequently bicker – they groom each other regularly though, so again, they’re friends).
  • Keeping Casper out of rooms where he has pooped in the past, including renovating the entire downstairs so there was no old carpet (no joke) or hint of a smell. During the process, he just moved up his pooping to old spots, until finally he just pooped in new spots anyway.
  • Using Nature’s Miracle and other “marking” detractors. He just moves spots.
  • Removing throw rugs Casper fixates on. Once there’s one accident, the rug is condemned. Removing it will stop the fixation, but he eventually finds somewhere else.
  • Purchasing lower sided litter boxes in case this was an arthritic issue. He chose the litter box with the smallest size and highest walls instead. And then pooped somewhere else.
  • I’ve tried three types of litter. He’ll go in all of them. And then he’ll poop somewhere else.
  • Moving the litter box out of the laundry room where the sounds might disturb him. Moving the litter box away from walls where it might feel to congested. Making sure there are 3-4 litter boxes in the house so that he has options. None of these had a meaningful effect. He definitely cannot handle a lid, so we haven’t had one on. I tried it once a few months ago and he promptly pooped outside of it. That message was clearly received.

My best friend Kelsey, who is in Veterinary School, consulted her peers, her professors. Nothing. I inquired back at the rescue, implying that we may not be able to sustain Casper’s pooping if it continued, and they didn’t have much to add.

Again I came back to his original vet records and felt duped. They knew he had this problem. I told them that I needed a cat without litter box issues. Why hadn’t they at least warned me? Knowing his past, I would have been cautious, in case it sprang up again. Everything I feared about rescuing had come true. Casper not only had litter box issues, but was in fact a special needs cat.

No, the diet had nothing to do with it. According to his records, he was on one of the top formulated foods out there. Not to mention that the grain-free hysteria is over exaggerated and over hyped. While it is possible, most dogs and cats, are more likely to be allergic to a meat-protein than they are to grain (Don’t bother arguing with me about it. Go ask your vet. Someone with a doctorate degree). Yes, even cats, who are strictly carnivorous.

So a well meaning rescue (truly, I believe they’re well meaning), rejected and or ignored the advice of veterinarians and let me adopt a cat I clearly stated I was in no way able to handle. Spencer, who actually bonded with Casper, was about ready to put him outside. I couldn’t have that.

So, I cried hard and accepted the worst. It was time Casper found a new home.

Breaking My Vow

I feared Kelsey’s judgement the most. But she encouraged me, once again reminding me why she’s my best friend, telling me that Kota, her own Maine Coon, had pushed her to a similar brink with peeing outside the litter box. She told me how much the fluoxetine helped, but that it was okay no matter what I decided.

I feared the rescue next. And sure enough, after a long heartfelt email, they came back with an air of disappointment and disapproval. I wanted to blame them so badly. They had no idea how hard it was for me. None.

It is hard not to judge people when we’re on the outside looking in. Especially when it comes to children and animals. Either people tell you they would have kicked a cat like Casper out a long time ago or they blame you for not trying harder. Trust me. We did try.

We hadn’t gone a month without poop somewhere in our house, sometimes several times in one week. That’s a hard pill to swallow, guys. I don’t care how passionate you are about rescue. And I would encourage those who are to be as fully open and honest with adopters as you can be. Rescue’s reputation is twinged for me, for this very reason. And for the reason that they were critical about my wish to surrender Casper.

I told them that prozac was probably a great option, and they wanted to know why I wasn’t giving it to him. Oh, I dunno. You try shoving a terrible pill into a cat’s mouth while he poops on your floor constantly. None of THEM piped up to take him.

I’d also been very insistent that I help rehome him. They were also confused by this, and I’m still not sure why. Why wouldn’t I want to help vet out his next home? Didn’t I of all people know Casper best at this point?

Still they asked me for pictures and a vet record. I couldn’t go into my photos without crying, so I just scheduled the vet appointment instead.

But then hope arrived.

A New Hope

It was by chance that we discovered what might have been the cure. We had friends coming over, one of which was severely allergic to cats. We had the same trouble before (it’s a much more popular allergy than you think), and with litter and dust bunnies strewn about the house, Spencer fixed himself on cleaning it stem to stern.

It also meant putting the cats in a separate room so they didn’t spread their dander after it was clean. There was still part of the downstairs that wasn’t fully renovated. It wasn’t dangerous but the cats were just kept from it, since we kept the door shut most of the time and didn’t want them trapped. He put their litter boxes, food, and toys in there and I with them in their temporary space.

Then it hit me. What if we kept Casper in the room permanently? By isolating him to a smaller space, we control the surface area that he might have an accident on. But something in me felt guilty. Was that any sort of life?

Spencer liked the idea though, and I started pitching him ideas about turning the room into a cat room. Now before anyone else has a concern, this space isn’t small. It’s almost the entire length of the downstairs, two amply sized bedrooms at least. If we just put the door back on the stairwell, and let them out when we were home, and supervising, into the movie room where we spent most evenings, it might just work.

An Updated Diagnosis

Then we went to the vet. We discussed the separation anxiety and the IBD. The practice we go to has multiple doctors, so despite what the first person said, it was her opinion that Casper had both of these issues. We agreed the grain had nothing to do with the problem, and to try a multitude of things to help Casper.

  1. The room. 100% vet approved and even recommended
  2. Fluoxetine, but suspended so it was in liquid form. And chicken-flavored.
  3. A daily probiotic
  4. Metronidazol, in case this was an instance of antibiotic-responsive diarrhea
  5. Hill’s I/D diet, specially formulated for intestinal health

Woof. It was no small order to say the least. But I was determined. We couldn’t go so far as to pay for the proposed $1000 teeth cleaning and ultrasound that she recommended, but this was a good start. This meant I got to keep Casper. And keep my vow.

A Lesson on the Cost of Rescue

We haven’t implemented all of these changes yet. But it’s in progress. I can happily say that Casper is doing very well in the room, and I’m looking forward to renovating it to be a cat paradise (look for a tour in the future!).

But through it all, I learned an incredibly gripping lesson about the cost of rescue.

Actually, I’m not referring to pet rescue. Despite my frustrations with well-meaning people, they’re still great and well-meaning. Please rescue if it’s right for you. There are many animals in need of us to step up.

No, I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about my rescue.

I am a special-needs creature, laden with the powerful, powerful sickness of sin. Of all the beings God made in the universe, I am an absolute mess.  The cure for my condition comes at serious consequence and cost, and they’d be better off leaving me to my fate and to this prison. I’m messy, broken, feeble, and not at all convenient. Any sinless being would be much better off without me and my incredible troubles.

But that’s not what God sees.

He sees all the best parts of me, all the beautiful things He put there that He delights in – simply because they’re me. He sees the work of His hands, calls it good, and takes joy in knowing me more. I am unworthy of Him, and yet He chooses to make me worthy by the power of His grace.

And yet I am still sick, and He knows it. So before I even knew I need rescuing, He and His Son set a plan in place to make sure that there’d be a home for me someday. Even though I might reject it or mess up myself and other people profoundly along the way. They took an incredible risk because, to them, I was worth the rescue – and the long road we’d take together once They did.

Yes to the average person, and once to me, Casper was too much effort. But once I knew him, knew how profoundly special He was despite himself, I knew I couldn’t let him go. I almost gave up – but  now I’m more resolute than ever to make sure the rest of his life is in this home with his family.

Now, my beautiful white lion is a constant reminder to me – that even though I was sick, Jesus agreed to come to my rescue. He suffered so I wouldn’t have to, and he’s building a place for me in His home in Heaven. He walks with me, protects me, and guides me, and teaches me how to love through another creature he lovingly made.

Yes, Casper has special needs. But he is rescued. And so am I.

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