November 5, 2008
In June of 1995 George disappeared during the night. Within two days I created a poster which we posted all over our neighborhood and which I took to all the animal shelters in the county. I filled out lost reports at every shelter and checked back every two to three days. Checking back meant walking through all areas of the shelter where strays would be. Sometimes that meant hospital areas, sometimes it meant areas where feral cats were held. I had been volunteering at the local SPCA so I was pretty familiar with the general routines and practices of animal shelters. It could be demoralizing for someone who didn't have any exposure other than searching for a pet. I would like to write something about the respect I have for people who work in animal shelters, but I need to save that for another time/place. This is about George - his disappearance and recovery.
I also went through the telephone directory for addresses for all veterinarians listed in the county and sent letters which included a copy of the poster with photos and microchip number. I described him well and asked that they scan any cat that matched his description. I received one letter at the time in reply which was very kind and wished me success in finding George. That was from Dr. Palmatier at Heritage Veterinary Hospital.
I continued my active searches of the shelters for 6 months or longer. It's been too many years now for me to remember. I wrote the Letter to George when I finally felt I couldn't do anything more than I already had. That was a year later, so I may have continued for a year.
When there is nothing more to do, you move on. We've never forgotten George or what he meant to us and as part of our family. We were forced to live without him.
Last Wednesday we received the call from Animal Control that he was at the shelter, verified by his microchip. We had microchipped all our pets before it was even a practical solution to a lost pet. Back then there were competing technologies and not every shelter scanned anyway.
We picked him up at the shelter within about 1 hour of the phone call and brought him back here. When we 'bailed him out' of the animal shelter, the attendant strongly urged us to take him to a vet as soon as possible. Once we saw him at home, we realized how ill he was. I called PetCare and was able to get an appointment within a couple of hours. Dr. Patricia Alexander was exceptionally helpful with all her recommendations and advice. They took blood for full panel of tests, gave him fluids, prescribed antibiotic for a severe respiratory condition and a baby food gruel diet with specific caloric intake per day. He appeared to be starving, so she was very careful with the feeding instructions. We agreed to do recheck on Monday.
Over the course of the next few days, we learned blood test results and a number of other things about him. His brother Klaus suffered from IBS and it looked as though George may too. This has some good aspects and bad aspects. Since I've cared for Klaus throughout his life, I'm very familiar with the condition, it's inherent difficulties and various treatments. The bad aspects are that cats with IBS can be very good one day and extremely bad the next - it's not always easy to understand why. Sometimes it's not anything we do, just the condition rearing it's very ugly head. In George's frail state, I was (and still am) very concerned about whether I can keep him eating without developing any gastric or digestive problems. He desperately needs to put on weight in order to begin to recover.
What Followed His Return
Well, we've had numerous calls from media agencies who want to film George or fly us with him around the country in order to be interviewed. Many, many phone calls have come in asking for information and interviews. First of all, we're very grateful that George has so many people who care how he's doing and want to know more. However, one of the aspects of determining and improving his overall health is keeping his life very low stress. We would love to share George and his story after he's feeling well, but we're not certain he will recover from his current health problems. He is very easily tired - just having a meal wears him out. Also, the real story here surrounds the microchip. If you want to discuss that, you can contact Frank.
On to the health issues. We learned on Tuesday 11/11 that he has a treatable infection and we have started on a new antibiotic. The infection is called toxoplasmosis and it can affect any part of the body. Treatment is not a guarantee that he will recover, but it is possible. We're hopeful that treating this infection will at the least clear up the respiratory problem. If it doesn't address the respiratory problem, he will require x-rays. We don't want to put him through that stress until he is stronger and has a bit more stamina.
11/14/08 - George had a good day yesterday. He ate well, even though we still had to do little syringing. He is still very congested, so he can't smell the food. Once he tastes it, he seems to enjoy it. Eating is very tiring for him because he has trouble breathing so he requires frequent breaks to let the food work down his throat. Frank posted some videos of him eating on youtube.
In addition to eating well, George had a really good evening. We try to spend some time cuddling with him in the hours between feedings. We don't want every interaction to be about forcing him to do something. I went in to check on him in the evening with feeding time still two hours off. I had a glass of wine I was sipping when I walked through the door. He immediately perked his head up and chirped at me. It just struck me that he wanted to know what I was 'eating'. I took the glass over and let him sniff (which doesn't mean much since he can barely smell anything). He stood up and walked over to the table where I put the food when we feed him. I was astonished. It has been a challenge to get enough calories into him each day and here he was asking for food.
I went to the door intending to warm up some food to see if I was interpreting correctly and when I turned to look back he was batting one of the feeding syringes with a paw. This too is amazing. Before then, he had trouble standing on three legs to play. Even though he's excited watching the toys being pulled around in front of him, he's still generally pretty subdued. Cats DO NOT like to fall over!
So I brought in some warm food and he went right to work eating from the spoon. Yeah George - way to go. Here are some photos...
11/17/08 - We've had a few rough days here with George. The day after he was so happy and hungry we noticed signs of stomach upset. He became much weaker and his respiration sounded more severe. He stopped eating on his own, although he drank plenty of water on his own. He seemed to feel progressively worse and on Sunday he seemed to be in about as bad condition as when we picked him up at the shelter. There have always been ups-and-downs in how he felt, but this seemed like an arc that started off bad, got very good and then got bad again.
We have taken him in the bathroom and run the sauna which seems to help the respiration a bit, and put a bit of mentholatum onto a cloth and left it near his bed. (We move it away during feeding time!) That also seemed to loosen up the congestion.
Today we started feeding every couple of hours very small amounts as well as starting him on Famotidine for the upset tummy. Everything I read about Clindamycin says it causes upset stomach but we can't afford to lose ground on feeding. First dose of Famotidine was at 11:00am and he is no longer acting like his tummy hurts. Fed him again at 1:00pm and it went well - no gagging. Since we can't get him to take the high calorie cat food, we're doing some Nutrical right now. Hopefully we can keep him where he needs to be to start putting on some weight.
PM - Another successful feeding with no tummy upset at 3:00pm!
11/17 His favorite watering hole.
11/19/08 - Well, even though the Famotidine seemed to eliminate the nausea, it didn't really perk up his appetite. We were reduced to syringing fluids (which is not usually very effective) and food - more stress. He had a recheck with Dr. Alexander in the afternoon and on her recommendation, we decided to hospitalize him for a day or two. He would be given IV fluids and they would feed and medicate him for us including a new medication - antihistamine.
We visited him this morning and this afternoon and will likely go back late tonight (this is a 24 hour hospital). They are disappointed that he has shown little improvement. Our afternoon visit, he curled up in my lap and slept most of the hour we stayed. He doesn't look much different than when we left him.
We authorized an ultrasound/sonogram for tomorrow and we'll see if it shows anything new.
11/20/08 - He's just the most amazing and sweetest boy! He's actually better today - purring and eating on his own - maybe not as much as he needs, but certainly better.They hadn't yet done the ultrasound, but we'll be receiving a phone call as soon as she has results.
The good news is he feels better. The bad news is he has cancer. Two masses showed in the sonogram. We're bringing him home tomorrow and will keep him as happy as we can for as long as he wants.
11/22/08 George at his morning nap - except for the open eye!
11/22/08 - George got settled in back at home yesterday morning and is doing well. I should start by saying George will not recover from the cancer, but our plan is to keep him happy for as long as possible. He is back to eating on his own, but we expect his appetite to gradually lessen. He isn't taking water on his own. Jennifer from Forgotten Felines brought us what we need to give him fluids here at home, but we're having a struggle. He's very resistant apparently to the sensation of the fluids. He accepts the needle placement ok, but once the fluids are flowing, he gets very stressed.
In general he's sleeping much of the time. He seems to have some pain on occasion - he wakes and readjusts his position from time to time. He loves to have us there when he wakes. He purrs when we're with him - except when we're giving meds, although he takes medications very well. He's really an amazing boy. He walks very well, but we've made certain food, water and litter box are in easy distance (on tables next to the bed).
He has ups and downs throughout the day, but we're being vigilant to observe whether the ups are staying the same or becoming less frequent and substantial.
Although we don't have time to reply to everyone right now, we do tell George whenever someone he doesn't know emails to wish him well. He never fails to purr when we tell him people love him. Because he is so happy when someone visits him, he's going to have some visits with a few old friends over the next two days so people can wish him well and give him love in person.
It's really an incredible gift for me and Frank and George to have an opportunity to reunite, become friends all over again and say a loving goodbye. This little miracle boy has much to teach us and everyone else who hears his experience.
11/24/08 - Well, after a slightly subdued day yesterday, George had a wonderful day today. He ate even better and had a nice long walk in the garden. He was also very interested in exploring the house a bit. He eventually ended up napping in the living room for a couple of hours this afternoon. He seems to be in very good spirits today.
Because the sub-cutaneous fluid process was so stressful for the three of us, we resorted to syringing water orally a couple of days ago. It's been going ok and he tolerates it MUCH better!
11/26/08 - George's strength seems to be improving daily and he's eating more each day as well. He's very happy and purring most of the time he's awake. He sleeps very soundly and it seems to have given him renewed interest in everything else. I added some new photos this morning from the last couple of days - check out the link below. I'm adding at the end of the page.
11/27/08 Happy Thanksgiving! - George wants to thank all his well-wishers for their thoughtful emails and wish everyone Happy Thanksgiving. He's having a happy day so far. Yesterday was really wonderful. He's just a purr machine the last few days! It was a bit too cold and drizzly for his walk in the garden, but he spent a bit of time wandering about the house. Still wanted to return each time to his bed and heating pad. In the evening he wandered in to where we sat; Frank working and Grace, Foxy and I watching TV. He joined us on a comfy chair and stayed with us until about 9:00pm when we needed to do some meds. We all had a great evening together with him purring away and watching everyone.
We're looking forward to a wonderful day today - we're marking the day as very special with something to be thankful for we never thought we'd have. We're doing it in a new an unique way - a quiet day at home, with the possibility of one or two visitors. We're not doing the normal turkey dinner, but rather something out of the ordinary for this occasion. If George wants it, he can have a special treat - an extra jar of baby food - but we'll save that until he's finished his a/d :) .
12/2/08 - George is doing really well! He's eating very well, sleeping well and very interested and engaged in everything around him. He still enjoys a daily stroll around the garden if it's sunny or around the house otherwise. Thanks to Jennifer of Forgotten Felines, we've found a good method for administering the sub-cutaneous fluids and are having reasonable success with that. He seems to be feeling very well on his medications at this point, so until he seems to have pain, we will continue along this path.
12/9/08 - Sorry it's been a few days. I'll begin where I left off...When we weighed George on the 2nd, he was at 6.8# which we felt was good. We were maintaining his weight even with the cancer, which I understand tends to consume everything in it's way. His appetite was excellent - always eating well and on his own. He was relatively active enjoying his walks in the garden.
Then on the 3rd, when we weighed him he was at 7#. His attitude was excellent, very interactive and enjoying getting up and moving about the house or garden a couple of times a day. Even though his weight was up, he seemed a bit less interested in food that night. Next morning (12/4) he was pretty hungry and ate well in the early part of the day. Later in the day his appetite seemed to taper off a bit. He was less enthusiastic about food.
On Friday we weighed him again and he'd dropped back to 6.8# which seems logical because he'd eaten less than what we hoped the previous day. He was still very interested in his walks and very interactive. He loves to have his faced washed after his meals and purrs. He also plays peek-a-boo with Frank - when Frank opens his door, George will focus on the opening and give a little chirp. Frank will then pull the door closed and then open it and peek in again. George is fascinated and chirps again, and the next time, hops up and walks to the end of the bed to greet his best friend. He also started regularly drinking water on his own again. It was a sign of something changing, but I was afraid it wasn't good.
Another thing George seems to love are sponge baths. His fur is a bit matted and soiled, but we haven't been able to give him a bath because we don't want to provide any opportunity for further illness or discomfort. So I give him sponge baths. He's not grooming easily as his agility is hindered by diminishing muscle tone, so using a wash cloth and warm water, I wash him up all over. He sits up and rubs his head on my hands and arms and purrs continually through the washing. Then he lays back down and I rub his fur gently with a dry towel. We follow that with a brushing using a very soft bristle cat brush. I know he loves to be clean, but he also loves all the attention. It's so nice to have things to do for him that he likes as opposed to giving him medication or hydrating.
On Saturday, Frank carried him over to our rental property (vacation rental) which is where George lived before he disappeared. It has been completely redecorated and doesn't look the same except for a couple of things. The bathroom cabinet over which he often spent his days sleeping is still there, although there are now plants on it. The cat door is also still there. When Frank put him down in the bathroom he walked directly over to the cat door and sniffed it thoroughly in that fully feline way. He walked from there into the bedroom and looked through the French doors out onto the patio.
In the living room, Frank opened the shade on the middle front window and while they were looking out a crow flew to the tree and dropped a walnut, then dropped down to open it. George became very excited and started trying to talk the crow 'in'. As they watched, another crow landed next to the first which made George even more ecstatic! He used to love chasing crows. Among the things we couldn't recreate for him was his pleasure in chasing crows. His muscle tone was considerably diminished when he came back to us and although at first he would try to play a bit, he wasn't steady enough on his feet to pull it off. He would certainly not be able to chase a bird (and he knew it).
His weight on Saturday was down to 6.6# since he wasn't eating as well, so I offered him some IVD canned venison. He loved the flavor and ate about 2 teaspoons. Unfortunately, it didn't bring his appetite back and he continued to be less interested in food. By Saturday afternoon he was having more frequent episodes of pain so I called PetCare and asked for some pain medication which we had discussed previously.
Our choice to give him pain medication was difficult. We knew that because he wasn't eating well we were near the end. It's very difficult to make decisions under these circumstances, but because of his age (16) we had made the choice not to treat him for cancer. We could either give pain medication to help ease his pain or we could go directly to euthanasia. Because we felt he was still enjoying so much of his time each day, we decided to try a couple of days of pain medication to see if it made a difference to his interest in eating.
Because we both work from home, we were able to spend a considerable amount of time with George around the clock. Each night since he came home from the hospital, I go in and give him food and visit with him for a while or until he falls asleep. During the days, we both go in just to visit in addition to doing the things we do to care for him, such as food, medicine, hydration and washing up. It's been remarkable to have the opportunity to see his pleasure in company. He is very quick to chat and purr. It was good to be able to know whether he was interested and engaged in his days. It helped us make decisions about everything. Although he enjoyed our company and his activity on Saturday, he didn't have any interest in food Saturday night.
On Sunday morning he still wasn't interested in food. I gave him his third dose of pain medication about 10:00am and then decided to spend the day in the kitchen (baking for Christmas) because it's just across the hall from his room. I kept the door open so I could pop in and out easily without waking him if he was sleeping. About noon, I went in with the remains of the jar of chicken baby food I'd opened for him that morning. He finished it all and purred up a storm. I visited him often during the next couple of hours. He didn't sleep much. About 2pm I was mixing something when I heard his screechy voice very loud. I went into the hallway and he was standing in his doorway. He hesitated so I went to him but couldn't tell exactly the nature of the conversation. I went into his room, but he stopped in the doorway. Then I walked into the kitchen and he followed. We walked together over to the kitchen door and Frank joined us. The two of them went out and George took his garden stroll without being carried anywhere. He had a path in mind and he followed it. When he was done, he walked back up the stairs to the kitchen and back into his room to his bed.
George didn't eat anything more after the baby food. He loved it as a kitten and I guess that's what he wanted for his last meal. We knew it was time - the pain medication was making him wobbly and disoriented when it was working and it didn't work for the full length of time. We could probably have contacted the veterinarian and increased the dose, but pain medication isn't a cure and he wasn't going to get better. I spent the night with him during which he was restless and uncomfortable. I offered food a couple of times, but it was consistently declined.
At 5:30am Monday morning Frank came in to stay with him, and I went to get some sleep so I could get my mind in order for dealing with the most difficult day. When I woke and had finished some coffee, my first call was to Jennifer to say it was time. I asked if she knew any veterinarians who would come to the house for euthanasia. I couldn't bear to take him back to the busy, noisy and brightly lit hospital. I didn't want him to experience any more stress. She gave me a name and I eventually found a wonderful woman, Sandy Nelson DVM, who was available to come to our home to help George move on to his next life. We spent the remaining time with him, talking and cuddling. He played peek-a-boo with Frank and rubbed his face all over my hand while I was petting him. He's a very sweet boy. He knows just how to convey his affection and appreciation.
The next paragraph describes the details of the euthanasia. It is specific, but not graphic, however if you are queasy, don't read on and know he was comfortable and peaceful when he left us.
It was the best end of life I've ever been able to provide one of my friends. He was quiet and still because he'd had his last dose of pain medication about 30 minutes before she arrived. We were all with him and he was at ease. The first thing she did was give him a sedative. He felt a brief moment of anxiety with the sting of the injection, but I was right there holding him and talking to him. Within a minute or so, he was sedated and she started seeking a vein for the final injection. He was so thin and dehydrated, even though we'd done some hydration around noon, that it took some careful and gentle probing. She was able to use the area where they had shaved his arm (for the IV while he was in the hospital). She gently administered the final injection and he was gone.
George's little body is now laying next to Ira, his twin and near his brother Klaus and his mentor Bandit. I talked to him earlier that day and let him know that soon he could chase crows and sleep curled up with Ira. That he'd have no pain and would enjoy his old hearty appetite for food. I hope his next life is good and filled with all the things that make him happiest.
We have many photos and quite a few little videos of him which I will add soon. For the next day or so we need to reflect on this time and work to get back to more normal life.
We truly appreciate the thoughts, prayers, advice and support of everyone who cared for and spent time reading about George.
Our deepest thanks to:
Articles published about George's miracle
Just as well he can't say where he's been
Our Pick for Most Informative
The Incredible Journey: Microchip ID Reunites Owners with Cat--13 Years Later
Other Articles & Follow Up
The cat that came back after 13 years dies
At least the old boy made it home
Santa Rosa cat, missing 13 years, is back home