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We have had six cats altogether, but Harpsie is the only one who has lived with all of the others. Tanya died in January 1999, and Indie came in February 1999 to keep Harpsie company; she is still with us. Thomas and George arrived in June 1999, but George died in September 1999 and Thomas in August 2000. Karma arrived in August 2001, and is still with us.
Tanya was our first ever cat. I had actually always wanted a dog (I had a dog when I was a child) but since I worked fulltime, this was not possible. In 1986 I was asked to be a bridesmaid by my future sister-in-law, and when I went for my first dress fitting, a beautiful cat ran into the room and jumped into the arms of the seamstress. This was Starlight, my first close encounter with a Persian cat, and I was immediately smitten. I contacted the breeder, and we went to see Tanya and her three siblings when they were three days old.
Tanya came to live with us when she was ten weeks old, in October 1986. We loved her to pieces, but looking back we had very limited experience with cats and although she got the best care we could offer, in retrospect, we could have done so much more (fed her better food, understood her feline needs better etc.). My husband's family had always had cats when he was young, but in those days cats were just part of the furniture, and of course there was no internet. But I think Tanya was happy overall, though she did seem to get bored when she was about six. That is why we got Harpsie, to keep her company. She had been stripping wallpaper and digging up carpets, but all that stopped as soon as Harpsie arrived. She hated him at first (Tanya was very territorial) but within a few weeks she was washing him. And Harpsie adored her.
Tanya died of renal failure on 10 January 1999, aged 12.5. You can read more about Tanya and how she was the inspiration for my Feline Chronic Renal Failure site here.
After Tanya died, the last thing I wanted was another cat - I felt that I could not face the thought of loss in the future ever again. However, Harpsie had other ideas. He had never been an only cat, and he fell into a deep decline, even though I was not working at this time, so I was home with him all day. He refused to eat, and within a week he had developed an infection (cat flu), which the vet ascribed to stress. After about four weeks of this, the vet told me she felt the best possible cure for Harpsie would be a feline companion.
I called local shelters, I mainly got answerphones, and I left a message that I was looking for a Persian cat. This was because I love Persians but also because they tend not to wander, and this was important to me since we live on a busy road. Most shelters did not respond to my calls, but I got a real live person at Cats Protection, Mary, who was very sympathetic and understanding. She asked me a lot of questions about Harpsie and Tanya, and I mentioned how Harpsie had piddled when he first came to us (see Inappropriate Elimination) but how we could not bear to give him up so we worked through it. Mary told me they only rarely got Persians in, but she'd bear me in mind. I was secretly relieved - I'd done my bit to help Harpsie but I didn't have to face the fear of love and loss in the near future.
The very next day, Mary called to say she had a cat for me! This cat was a Chinchilla, so a sort of Persian. And she was a real phantom piddler! Her current owner was a guy whose girlfriend had given her to him because she kept peeing in her home and her flatmate had complained. Now the cat was peeing in his home, and his flatmate had threatened to dump the cat (who had never been outdoors in her life, and who was unspayed) out on the street if she wasn't out of there by that evening. I was underwhelmed at the thought of a piddling cat, who wasn't even a "proper" Persian, and who was not yet two years old, so we had years of piddling ahead of us. But she needed us. I didn't even know what a Chinchilla looked like, so I looked them up in a book. I was homechecked by Cats Protection that afternoon, and several hours later I went to collect Indigo. She sat on my knee at this guy's flat and looked up at me with those ginormous green eyes. I found it hard to believe she could be such a terror of a piddler, but according to the guy she was absolutely dreadful.
The photo left is the one I took after we brought Indie home that evening. She was very frightened generally, but she was absolutely terrified of my husband. In fact, she hid from him for the first three weeks she was with us, only coming out when he went to work or to bed. But she took an instant shine to me and bonded with me like glue. We cagetrained her, and I'm pleased to say Indie (who I later found out had had five previous homes altogether because of her piddling) has never had a single piddling accident in our home.
We call Indie the "chocolate box lid kitty". We believe people gave her a home because she's so pretty she belongs on a chocolate box lid; and they forgot she was a cat, not a cuddly toy. She is actually the best hunter of all our cats, despite looking so dainty. And she loves, loves, loves food! When she came to us, she weighed a much too thin 5 lbs. She soon reached her healthy weight of 8 lbs, and never wavers from this by more than a couple of ounces, despite loving food so much. I often say if I could patent Indie's weight management programme, I'd be a millionaire!
Harpsie adored Indie from the very beginning. He immediately cheered up once she arrived and shook off his infection. She took longer to bond with him; actually, she kept whacking him on the nose at first: Indie is a shoot first and ask questions later kind of a girl. But Harpsie never retaliated, he would just sit there looking bewildered and disappointed. Indie soon realised what a nice guy Harpsie is, and they became fast friends. Indie will really miss Harpsie when we lose him.
Indie has always been very healthy apart from a bout of cat flu which she caught from George, and an upset stomach on three occasions. So I was shocked when, in September 2005 during a routine check-up at the vet's, the vet detected a galloping heart rhythm. I took Indie to the cardiologist, who discovered that Indie had tricuspid valve insufficiency and a few other heart changes. They were not severe enough to need treatment, but she must be checked annually. Three months later I was diagnosed with the same heart condition! In my case, it is because of scar tissue which was probably caused by an infection when I was a child. Sometimes I think Indie and I take our bond a bit too far!
Indie had to have a dental in late 2006 because she had stopped eating on account of dental pain. It took her a very long time to recover from it, and to start eating again, but she did eventually return to normal.
Thomas, a black DSH (domestic shorthair), was the local stray, who was already in the neighbourhood when we arrived in 1994. Initially we did not realise that he was a stray, he looked in good health so we assumed he belonged to one of our neighbours. We never got to see Thomas too closely though, because Tanya would not allow Thomas in her garden and he used to run away from us if we tried to get near him.
Eventually we discovered that Thomas did not have a home as such but our next-door neighbour used to feed him every day. She told us he was feral and that she could not get near him either.
In the Spring of 1999 our neighbour told us she was moving into sheltered housing and could not take Thomas with her. We decided to try and trap Thomas and tame him if possible so that he could have a proper home. It took more than a week (he was very wily!) and during the attempts I noticed that Thomas had an overpowering aroma.
We caught Thomas on 21 June 1999 at which time we christened him Thomas (our neighbour just referred to him as "the black cat"). After trapping Thomas, we took him to the vet for a check up. He was already neutered, presumably by his original owners. The vet discovered that the smell was coming from severely abscessed teeth; Thomas needed to have three removed. Apart from that, he was basically healthy - he didn't even have a flea on him. His kidney values were very slightly elevated but my vet ascribed that to the stress of being trapped, and they reverted to normal later on, after the dental work had been completed.
We soon discovered that Thomas was not remotely feral, on the contrary he was shy, sweet and gentle. He was so appreciative of having a proper home - he loved living with us and settled in well. However, he rarely came in the lounge, he usually preferred to be in the bedroom. I have never seen another cat who was so grateful to be able to sleep on a human bed.
We kept Thomas in for the first three weeks after we trapped him, partly so he would know this was now home, and partly to ensure he recovered fully from his dental surgery. After three weeks, one of the builders who was repairing our roof accidentally left the door open, and Thomas got out. Since Thomas had been the local stray for so long (we estimated, based on reports from the neighbours, that Thomas was about 12), we felt it would have been cruel to keep him indoors, so we did allow him out in the day time. We live in a safe neighbourhood, and he had already managed 12 years in the area, so clearly he was streetwise. He often just sunbathed in our garden, but he did disappear for an hour or two occasionally.
Thomas had an accident in November 1999 (we don't know exactly what he did to himself, but he had torn the skin on his side and had debris deep inside the tear). This required surgery, and during the pre-surgery blood work my vet discovered that Thomas's kidney values were sky high. We began treatment, but he then crashed just before Christmas. You can read more about Thomas's battle with chronic renal failure and anaemia here.
Thomas was the kind of cat who accepted his twice daily treatment without complaint, then went about his daily routine. Initially he had anaemia so he could not do much, but once this was under control, he was out exploring and, I'm sorry to say, occasionally killing birds (a legacy of his life as a stray). He continued to love sunbathing, and basically enjoyed life as before despite having CRF.
Thomas was acting so well in himself that we and the vets were surprised and saddened when bloodwork results towards the end of July 2000 showed a dramatic worsening in Thomas's renal function. He suddenly crashed on 10 August and we made the painful decision to let him go on 11 August, when it was apparent that this time he could not fight back; like Tanya, he was unable to urinate. The vet came to our home and helped him cross - it was very peaceful. He had been acting like a healthy cat right up until 10 August, even going out for a long walk on 9 August and returning to eat a large dinner (Thomas's appetite was always pretty good apart from when his anaemia was severe). Although it was a shock for us, I am glad for Thomas's sake that he was able to enjoy life right up until the end and that his last day was spent looking out at the garden he loved.
George was a very sweet DLH (domestic long hair), black and white "tuxedo" cat. I first met him around the time we trapped Thomas, when I was taking Thomas to the vet to be checked over. There was a notice at the vet's about a black and white cat looking for a home. I figured if we were already rehoming Thomas, one more couldn't hurt, so I asked to meet George. He was a real cutie, very handsome, but also very affectionate and friendly. I was smitten.
The vet told me George's history, so far as she knew it. A member of the public had contacted one of the UK's largest animal welfare charities (not Cats Protection) after finding a stray cat near her home who did not seem at all well. The animal welfare charity had collected George and taken him to my vet. She promptly diagnosed extremely severe hyperactive thyroid, which needed urgent treatment. The charity said their limit for treating stray cats was £50, but this was not going to be enough, because George would either need ongoing medication or surgery (radiation therapy was not feasible for a stray cat). My vet said she would be happy to keep George at the surgery if they paid for medication while a home was sought for him, but they refused and asked her to put George to sleep. My vet felt it inappropriate to put a cat to sleep who had a treatable illness, so eventually she accepted full responsibility for George, and decided to treat him and find a home for him herself.
George was initially treated with carbimazole, but his hyperactive thyroid was so severe (with accompanying heart issues and anaemia) that he did not respond very well to it, and it caused bad side effects. In addition, George continued to lose weight. The vet felt all this was going to make it even harder to rehome George. Eventually she, in consultation with her colleagues, decided surgery for the hyperactive thyroid would be appropriate in George's case. One of the younger vets performed the surgery, which was a complete success. George's heart and anaemia issues went away, and he began to gain weight.
I first saw George about a month after his surgery. His neck was still shaven, as you can see in the photo, but otherwise you would not have known he had been ill. My husband also met George and was smitten too (George loved to rub noses), so we offered him a home, much to my vet's delight.
George came home with us on 25 June 1999, and we quarantined him in a spare bedroom. This was a good thing, because a few days after his arrival, he went down with cat flu. Poor George was very ill and very miserable, but he did recover.
George was a large cat (about 15 lbs), the largest we'd ever had! But he was also a sweet, affectionate cat who loved his bedroom. We did gradually introduce him to the other cats, and he came downstairs sometimes and went in the garden occasionally, but he seemed to feel happiest in his own bedroom. We left the door open so he and the other cats could come and go at will, and it seemed to work very well.
On Tuesday 24 August 1999, George, who had never vomited before, suddenly vomited on the kitchen floor. It looked like it had blood in it. I called the vet, who said I should bring him in immediately. They checked him over and ran some tests, and said everything looked OK, so perhaps it was just a bout of gastric flu. George was given some medicine, and the vet recommended a bland diet for five days.
The next day, Wednessday, George was his usual self, enjoying his food and no sign of any problems, so we thought it was just a one off. But the following day, Thursday, George was poorly again and refusing to eat. We took him to the vet first thing on Friday, and they admitted him and put him on a drip because by now he was dehydrated. Initial blood tests indicated possible kidney problems, but the vet said that the elevations in the kidney bloodwork might have been caused by the dehydration.
The blood needed to be sent out to the lab for a full work up and unfortunately it did not arrive at the lab on the Saturday. Since it was a holiday weekend, full test results would now not be available until the following Tuesday. Some limited blood test results done in-house by the vets on the Saturday indicated mild liver problems, but the locum vet on duty over the weekend told us George was very sick and had a less than 50% chance of survival in his opinion.
We visited George twice a day over the weekend, and he did actually improve somewhat on the Saturday and Sunday, he started to eat for us and was alert during our visits, and by the Monday he was eating relatively well. Sadly, he vomited dried blood on the Monday, which was not a good sign, and his liver still looked very inflamed during a scan, more so than the vets would have expected from the liver bloodwork.
The vets felt George probably had liver cancer (or possibly some other kind of cancer in the abdominal tract), but felt the only way to know for sure what the problem was and to devise a treatment plan was to biopsy his liver. We agreed that they could biopsy George's liver on Tuesday 31 August, and further agreed that if they found evidence of untreatable cancer or another untreatable condition, they should not bring George round from the anaesthesia, but instead should put him to sleep.
Incredibly, George survived the biopsy - which did not show any signs of cancer, but the liver was not looking normal - and was even eating the evening of his surgery. However, the vet called the following morning and said George had deteriorated a lot and she felt it would be kindest if we put him to sleep. We set off to be present during the euthanasia, but George died at 11.15 a.m. on Wednesday 1st September 1999 while we were en route to the vet's.
In retrospect, I wish we had not put George through the biopsy, but we agreed to it in the hope that it would help the vets to treat him successfully, because often the liver can regenerate. Sadly, this was not the case for George.
We agreed to the lab continuing to process the biopsy because nobody had expected George to die and we all, including my vet, wanted to know what had happened; my vet very kindly paid for this. The biopsy showed that George had irreversible liver damage caused by either overactive thyroid or starvation; either way, it appears that the damage to George's health was done while he was a stray, when his thyroid problem was untreated and he had to scavenge for food.
Nine weeks in our home
Forever in our hearts.
Karma, a blue Himalayan, was born in August 1997 in the USA. She was spayed and declawed at the age of 10 weeks, and immediately began displaying behavioural problems (Inappropriate Elimination). Her owner dealt with this by promptly locking Karma in a bathroom for 18 months, where she had very little contact with anyone except when food was delivered to her twice a day. Karma did not improve, so she was given up for adoption in Seattle.
A friend of mine on the East Coast of the USA saw this photo (left) of Karma on the shelter website and fell in love with her. She did a long distance adoption knowing of Karma's problems. She worked very hard to help her, took her to a world famous (and fully qualified) animal behaviourist, and Karma improved greatly and did not urinate inappropriately for six months, despite living with a male cat (my friend's existing cat) who was one of the most aggressive cats the behaviourist had ever seen.
Unfortunately in November 2000 when Karma was three, this lady's father was hit by a drunk driver on his way home from work. He was in hospital for several weeks and was then confined to a wheelchair. Naturally, his daughter was spending a lot of time at the hospital and supporting her mother, and this gave the male cat plenty of time to beat up Karma. Because Karma no longer had much human company and was at the mercy of the male cat, she began to urinate inappropriately again. Her owner would come home from helping her mother at midnight, completely exhausted, and find her bed full of cat pee.
Karma was placed in the bathroom, the only room without soft furnishings, her favourite peeing spot (unfortunately, the rest of the house was open-plan so there were not many options). This was very lonely and boring for Karma, and eventually her human decided she had to find her a new home.
Of course, nobody would take Karma - shelters said they couldn't rehome her because of her history, and she couldn't find anybody else. Karma was at risk of euthanasia so we eventually agreed to take her. Although this meant a transatlantic flight and six months in quarantine (which would no longer be required now, following the introduction of the Pet Passport Scheme), we couldn't bear the thought of her being euthanised or living in a bathroom, and figured quarantine was a better option. We also knew from Karma's flight from the west coast to the east coast that she could cope with air travel. Plus we are used to piddlers, Harpsie and Indie were both terrible piddlers at one time, and they are now fine (see Inappropriate Elimination).
Quarantine wasn't much fun, but unlike living in a bathroom it was at least temporary. One reason we went this route was because the quarantine facility is only 10km (about six miles) from our house, so we could visit Karma regularly - four times a week. She's also quite a self-sufficient little cat (I guess she'd have to be, with her history) so she actually coped really well with quarantine. And quarantine is not a cage! - she had her own room, with a full length window shelf 18 inches deep where she could sun herself, two beds, heating, toys etc.
Karma was in quarantine Feb-Aug 2001. I was very nervous when she came home, but actually, like Harpsie and Indie, she's stopped piddling inappropriately. She had also been on medication for her problem but we were able to wean her off this. She occasionally urinated on beds and sofas in 2004 and 2005 but each time it turned out that she had a urinary tract infection (or, on one occasion, constipation) and following appropriate treatment she became clean once again.
Incidentally, Karma's behaviourist said Karma's declawing played a major part in her behaviour. It's a disgusting practice and should be illegal everywhere, as it is in most Western countries apart from USA and Canada.
Because she spent her early life alone in a bathroom, Karma has limited social skills, and does not like too much petting. She is also a little scared of Harpsie (after all, she lived with a very aggressive male cat in her previous home), even though he is always as nice as pie to her. We simply allow her to be herself. Here she is bravely coping with Harpsie being in the next basket.
Harpsie's Cousins, Cleo and Ollie
When my brother-in-law first met Harpsie, he was so smitten that he immediately decided he needed a cat like Harpsie (difficult to achieve, since Harpsie is unique). He went off to the shelter, and lo and behold, they had a Persian of very similar colouring to Harpsie called Ollie. My brother in law said he would like to adopt Ollie but was told this was not possible. When he asked why, he was told Ollie could not be separated from his mother, Cleo. Cleo had been in the cage with Ollie but she was hiding, so my brother-in-law had not seen her. No problem, he said, and adopted both cats. Cleo was born in 1991, so is a year older than Harpsie, and Ollie is around Harpsie's age.
Sadly, Cleo was diagnosed with liver cancer around the same time that Harpsie was diagnosed with cancer. She died in 2007. Ollie came to live with us in 2008. He died in November that year, aged 16. You can read more about him here.
This page last updated: 2 February 2008
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