Sunday Obits

I am full of a chesty cold and have spent the weekend falling from sick bed to sick bed around the flat, with Athena following dutifully in my wake to cuddle and occasionally lick me back to full health. So I’ve been reading a lot of internet articles.

There’s a fascinating blog on Jezebel about how a writer felt after the death of his cat Kellog. A paper I wrote looking at how people remember dead pets online will soon be available in Anthrozoos. The nature of the internet means that that paper is already slightly outdated, with this kind of response now more often captured in social media rather than online pet obituaries as it was only a few years ago.

Add it to the list of things to investigate one day .  . .

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Chronicles of Athena – Lockout 2016

There I was, happily trotting off to the cinema to see ‘Spotlight’, when I heard an almighty yowl behind me.

Edinburgh tenements have a common stairwell, colloquially known as the ‘close’, with an exterior door at the bottom. I was at the bottom of my close, two neighbours had just passed me on the way up, when Athena decided to make her unhappiness known. Oh dear, I thought to myself, while my neighbours gave me an odd look. Athena has always been vocal and does call out to me when she hears me speaking in the close, but I always have a sneaking worry about separation anxiety.

Nothing to be done now, I think, and keep on going. Three and a half hours later I return, and funnily enough I don’t hear Athena calling out to me at the usual spot (where I think she must know the sound of my step on the stair).

No, because Athena is sitting huddled on the doormat outside my flat’s front door. And when she sees me she howls again.

Poor little Athena slipped out right on my heels when I left for the cinema and spent the better part of four hours in the close feeling miserable. We’ve now fed her plenty of treats (and she’s been tweeting about the experience . . . somehow). All is well.

But if Athena had been a different type of cat, one who’d decided to explore further, or was less sure of the close that she’s explored before, who knows what would have happened? Thankfully, she’s microchipped. It’s so important for responsible pet ownership for your animals to be traceable.

If you’re in the UK the RSPCA has a guide here. And for the US, the AVMA has their guide here.

Speak to your vets about keeping your pets traceable, make sure your records are always up to date, and double check your doors on the way out. Or your cat tweeting threats of negligence might just be the least of your worries . . .

 

Sorry Athena – will get right on that bacon for you.

Chronicles of Athena – One Year

This week Athena is one year old! We went from this …

Athena 9 Weeks Old
Athena’s first day with me, discovering Netflix for the first time

To this …

Athena at One Year
Athena as a one year old, not getting into Sense8 on Netflix and very much enjoying the sunshine

 

The aging process is a strange thing, and something me and a colleague have been talking about lately. For Athena, there’s still a way to go. She still has a kitten’s energy, and still finding her own individuality. Purina has a fun age chart on their site here, which suggests that as a rule of thumb, we would consider Athena to be equivalent to a 15 year old human. These kinds of rules are sometimes confusing for pet owners. Athena isn’t likely to start using heavy eyeliner and locking herself in her room (although one night I did walk into the bedroom to find her alone, sitting beside the mood lighting and seemingly listening to the Genesis I had playing), but these companion animal aging rules are more to give you a comparison between the physical maturity and the kinds of behaviours you might expect.

For all my ideas of getting and well-socialising a kitten, Athena has developed her own ideas of how she should behave. Her personality is that of a live wire, cautious and curious bundled up with affection. When we went to stay with our lovely friend Kay while the central heating was being installed, Athena very quickly adopted Kay into the pride and spent the morning accidentally miaowing and making noise outside of Kay’s bedroom, feigning shock and delight when Kay got up (and then looking less impressed when Kay wouldn’t let her in the shower).

I’d love to ask Athena what she thinks of her life, does she enjoy it, what would she change, is she happy with me? But I don’t think she really has any comprehension of a different life, no power to imagine the comparison. What she does know is that she loves her fluffy pillow on the windowsill, she doesn’t know what hunger is, and she’s never felt much pain, and she gets cuddles whenever she asks. I think that means she’s had a good first year. Here’s hoping she’ll have many more.

Happy Birthday, Athena!

Chronicles of Athena – 47 Weeks

Things Athena truly, deeply believes:

  • Jill has the power to summon fun creepy-crawleys. Sometimes, when Jill is so inclined, she will call my name and a bug will manifest at her fingertip.
  • Sometimes I eat these bugs.
  • Sometimes the bugs will escape and crawl over my lip.
  • Sometimes I need help when this happens.
  • Jill has the power of Sheba.
  • The food in the yellow packets is WAY better than the shitty stuff I used to get.
  • Somehow, Jill has barred my entrance to the Forbidden Cupboard of Mystery.
  • Jill still has not figured out where I’ve stashed my paper straws. Ergo, I can bring her straws to play with.
  • When I am sad about the world/because I can’t reach a bug on a wall/am slightly malcontent, I need only cry for Jill to pick me up and make it all better.
  • Cold mornings mean cuddles beneath the duvet.
  • Warm mornings mean sleeping in the sunbeams on the windowsill.
  • If I am bored, I can get a toy from my toybox. Jill will want to play with this toy.
  • Jill knows when I want to scratch the carpet
  • And the mattress
  • And the curtains
  • She is magic
  • Jill also controls the Hidden Cupboard of Secrets
  • And the Fridge of Wonderful Smells

Things I truly, deeply believe:

This kitten is spoiled beyond belief.

Chronicles of Athena – 41 Weeks

I’m the kind of person who likes rules (rules control the fun) so Athena should take it as a little victory that she broke me this week.

You see, Athena is a fussy eater.  Athena likes dry food, and treats. Athena will tolerate poultry based foods if it’s grilled and lightly covered in jelly (‘meaty chunks’ are not appropriate, and the richness of gravy based foods gives Athena what we will delicately call ‘the runs’ in large quantities). She will just about accept salmon or sardine if she’s hungry. She won’t eat cod or tuna regardless of how it’s prepared. She won’t even take mackerel off my plate, and if I’m eating salad she’ll try to steal a rocket leaf instead of a piece of a crab.

All of this means that of the range of kitten food available (which the box says ‘feed up until 1 year), there’s only one box where she will reliably eat about 75% of the sachets. For months now, when browsing the shelves I’ve been eyeing up one of the adult boxes of cat food, grilled, with jelly, chicken, turkey, duck, lamb and beef flavours. Just think, I would tell myself. Come July, I’ll be able to buy that box, and my one year old kitten would eat everything I put in front of her.

Well this month, after accidentally picking up a non-grilled box of food that contained BOTH tuna and cod (Athena is so against cod that she won’t even ask for more food when it’s on her plate for fear she might get cod again), I gave up and bought the grown up box 12 weeks early.

Thankfully, Athena didn’t immediately die from being given the wrong kind of food, so that’s a plus. She’s also added beef to her repertoire of nice things to eat.

Although she still has a day or so a week where she’d prefer not to eat. I have no idea where she gets this from. I’ve been on the 5:2 fad diet since Christmas and I still want to kill people when I’m stuffing my face with salad and pickle. Athena daintily turns her nose up and says “No thank you, I’m not hungry today”

Little bitch.

Chronicles of Athena – 40 Weeks

This week a man came into the house and played about with Athena’s favourite window. He even stood on her beautiful window sill with his boots on. I am sure you can imagine just how upset she was by the whole event.

Our new flat has the most beautiful light and I couldn’t resist taking advantage of it yesterday to demonstrate a cool little quirk of feline physiology. You might have seen this demonstrated on the BBC’s wonderful ‘Secret Life of Cats‘ but hopefully this video will show you how you can demonstrate this as a teacher or parent (or just to other people if you have a cat on hand!)

Watch how, despite no change in the light levels, Athena’s pupil size changes drastically before she pounces on Mr Ducky. She opens her pupils as wide as she can before pouncing so she can take in as much information as possible. It’s very obvious once you start looking for it, and would supplement a lesson on the physiology of the eye really well.

 

 

Animal science and behaviour science isn’t always easy to demonstrate, unlike chemistry or physics where you can set up experiments with a lot of household objects. I keep meaning to collect small examples of animal behaviour that work like this, so if you think this  kind of thing is useful, do let me know.

Chronicles of Athena – 39 Weeks

After what’s been a rough few weeks, we’re in need of some family time. So I’ve packed Athena up and brought her to mum’s. The rest of my family is distinctly more theatrical than me so I’ll be spending tonight dressed in forties gear watching their production of Allo Allo, which is very exciting.

Athena is coping very well with the temporary change in venue (and was even extremely well behaved in the car). An ulterior motive for this little bit of family time is to get Athena used to other people looking after her. It’s not outside the realms of possibility that she might have to come here for a week if I’m off at a conference (or, unlikely having just bought a flat, an actual holiday).

It’s a sign of how I overthink every little part of Athena’s care that I very carefully weighed up the pros and cons of taking Athena (who has been here before as a kitten, who has moved house three times, and who has never shown much in the way of nervousness around new environments), before I agreed to the plan. While I’m much more confident with her than I was thirty weeks ago, I still find myself second guessing sometimes.

Is she happy?

Does she have everything she needs?

Am I doing a good job?

When we arrived last night, she found herself a high spot in the kitchen to perch. When I came over she gave me a big kitty kiss, rubbing her jaw over cheek, and after five minutes she was off exploring. As ever, Athena is much more confident about life than I am.

So I take that as a compliment. Over the last thirty weeks I still haven’t irreparably broken the little life I have taken responsibility for. Gold star for me. And for Athena.

Anatomy of a Break – Part Two

This is a post I have tried to put off writing.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Bobo, who had badly broken a leg. This was missed by a vet, and so poor Bobo had spent time in pain, and now was faced with a complicated operation to save the leg.

Almost unbelievably, Bobo died under general anaesthetic last Friday.

I wrote up a case study on the subject, and I’ve had the chance to explain it to her old owner Sophie in person, thanks to a helpfully timed genetics conference. And I’ve talked about it to mum over and over. I won’t go into the detail again here. Suffice to say, the operation to save her leg didn’t work. When she was brought back under anaesthetic to amputate her leg, she suffered a cardiac arrest and could not be revived.

It’s incredibly unusual to lose a cat under general anaesthetic these days, even one who has been through several with some infections. The staff were shocked, and have been very kind to my mum, sending her a card and Forget-Me-Not seeds.

In a horrible echo, Mum’s new neighbour found her own cat returning home with a half-severed tongue. It appears as though there’s something in the area attacking cats, be it another cat in the area, or a dog, or whatever.

And I have just submitted my old MSc project for publication, about how online pet obituaries can help shine a light on successful human-animal bonds. One of the interesting little results we found in that project was the preponderance of people justifying their choice to euthanise, if that’s what they did. People recite clinical information, talk about lack of pain, the need for a ‘good death’. I find myself doing this too, going over the advice I gave, analysing where I could have saved Bobo. And I know that Mum has been doing the exact same.

Some theories suggest we have companion animals because the short nature of those bonds prepare us for what happens in human-human bonds. It prepares us to look after children, it prepares us to grieve, it prepares us to have someone depending on us. The nature of our bond with our pets is unique, though.  When Athena was moaning at me this week I was able to say to her “You know, some other little cats are dead, how would you like that?” which you would never say to a human, child or adult, but you can completely say to an animal. When Athena was trying to upturn her water fountain on Friday night, I sang, to the tune of ‘Maria’, a song about a kitten who got wet paws.

The nature of the human-pet bond is such that we can be brutally honest with them, exposing a part of ourselves that we wouldn’t normally expose to other humans. The loss of a companion animal does not just encompass the loss of something you love, but a specific and unique loss – the loss of a confidant, the loss of a proxy family member, the loss of a little extension of yourself.

Hug your babies close, if they’ll let you, and tell them you love them, which they might not fully understand. What we have with our pets is special, and when it’s unexpectedly robbed from you, that is a break that is hard to heal.

Goodbye Bobo, you will be very much missed.

Anatomy of a Break – Chronicles of Bobo Part One

The black and white cat you sometimes see in the Fluffy Sciences banner is called Bobo.

I met Bobo in January 2010, back when she was called Bono, and was my friend Sophie’s cat. Only six months earlier I had sat with my little tuxedo cat, Posie, in the vet’s office while we overdosed her with pentobarbitol, and let her slip away from her days wracked with arthritic pain, liver failure and dementia. Bono was a very different cat to Posie, confident where Posie would hide . . . slightly dimmer than Posie which really said something because Posie once got a fright when she thought a tree sneaked up behind her.

Come December 2011 and life has intervened, Bobo needs somewhere to stay for Christmas. I know, as friends do, that this isn’t just somewhere to stay for Christmas really, and so I begin some political machinations.

Mum, I say, poor Sophie doesn’t know what to do with her cat over Christmas, I was wondering if I should take her . . .

Sophie, I say, poor Mum misses our old cat so much, she’s been thinking about getting a new one, I think if she looks after Bono for Christmas .

One Christmas stay later, in 2012 Bono moves to my mum’s for good and after a little while becomes Bobo. I feel like a master manipulator. In 2013, my little sister moves out and Bobo becomes surrogate daughter for someone with empty nest syndrome. She is spoiled rotten, and Athena should recognise that her Aunty Bobo was instrumental in making me realise I needed another cat.

But I’m talking about Bobo for a reason. Two weeks ago now I got a frantic phonecall from my mum, on a girly weekend in York, and panicked because Bobo had been found in the hall howling and unable to walk. My stepdad assumed she’d been hit by a car and took her to the vet’s.

A vet, late on a Friday afternoon. A vet who removed my stepdad from the examination room and returned a verdict of cat bites. Prescribed antibiotics and sent her home.

When you work in a vet school, when you work with vet students, you feel a lot of sympathy for vets. I have little sympathy for this one. I cannot understand why this vet didn’t prescribe pain meds, when behaviourally the cat was so distressed the owner had to be sent from the room, when the owner assumed a car accident because of the levels of pain being shown. I can’t understand that.

I also can’t understand how in such an examination, the vet could miss a dislocated leg and a fracture at the ankle.

This week, because Bobo was still in pain, she was taken back to the vets to see her regular vet, who immediately prescribed more antibiotics, steroids and scheduled her for a general anaesthetic for a thorough examination and x-ray. 13 days after the injury, the break was discovered. Bobo’s options were a transfer to Vet’s Now in Glasgow for a risky surgery which might save the leg, or an amputation.

Which would you do?

The surgery carries risk and a prolonged period of recovery, where Bobo will need to be caged for at least six weeks. The amputation carries long term behavioural limitation. Which would you choose?

In an attempt to give my mum the best advice I could I surveyed as many vets as I could find on Friday afternoon, and the answers are mixed. There’s no clear answer here at all, and I couldn’t help but ask for photos and videos to use in teaching. What do you do?

Bobo is currently in hospital, waiting for the surgery that might save her leg. For the next couple of weeks, we’ll talk about her instead of Athena.

Athena’s grudgingly allowed this.

Chronicles of Athena – 34 Weeks

While Athena is not my first cat, she is the first cat who is wholly mine, who would absolutely not survive without me. My last family cat, Posie, was euthanised in late 2009, and I went to get Athena on a sunny September morning in 2014.

While Posie had four caretakers who loved her, and Athena has only me, these aren’t the biggest differences in my relationships between the two cats. In many ways, they’re very similar. They both get very excited by cuddle time, they both put up with my restless sleeping by taking up position on my legs, they both chirrup when they say hello and they both have a fondness for crab pate.

But I find myself saying things to Athena that I’ve never had to say to cats before, and I every time I do I can’t help but roll my eyes at how much changes in five short years. For example:

  • “No, lattes are not for kittens”
  • “Take your head out of that gin and tonic”
  • “Please don’t hit YouTube with your nose, now it has paused”
  • “No baby, you can’t text with me, you text gibberish”
  • “The phone is not your toy”
  • “Okay, well, yes, when it’s got your app on it it becomes your toy”
  • “No, kitten, I was talking to the XBox, not to you, you go back to sleep, XBOX ON!”

However, one thing I say hasn’t changed “THAT FOOD IS MINE YOU HAVE YOUR OWN AND IT’S FULL!”