5 Years’ Worth of Cats, Part 1

Part 1: Introduction
In 2010, shortly after I graduated college, I met a cat named Smirnoff. And what seems so crazy to me now, five years later, is that on the day I adopted him I had 1) never stepped foot inside an animal shelter before and 2) knew very little about cats. I mean, I knew one thing. I knew that cats were generally considered to be pets. I had even met a very friendly one once while babysitting for a neighbor, so I knew that once in a great while, a cat might like to sit in a lap. But that was about it.

Yet here I am, in 2015, employed as the regional foster coordinator for one of the nation’s largest no-kill organizations. I spend 40+ hours each week in an animal shelter, and can tell you more about cats than you could ever really care to know. No, really. I know, for instance, that a cat with extra toes is called a polydactyl. I know the names of all the different cat coat types, and the difference between a tabby mackerel and a tabby classic. I know that cats are induced ovulators (just like rabbits), which is one reason why we have so many strays and kittens. I know that cats are lactose-intolerant despite loving milk, that they produce pheromones to mark their territory and to make things smell more familiar (which is why they love having their cheeks and chin rubbed), and I know how to calculate the stomach capacity of a neonatal kitten. In addition to Smirnoff, I have two other adopted cats (and, miraculously, also a boyfriend), and live 3,000 miles away from where I began this journey. I’ve met Jackson Galaxy twice, volunteered/worked with four different rescue organizations, started a youtube channel, a podcast, an instagram feed and… oh yeah, I have met thousands of cats. Literally. Thousands*. And it’s only been five years.

(To give you an idea of numbers, since I began working at Best Friends Animal Society in Los Angeles in 2013, our adoption center has sent home over 3500 cats. And I personally did the adoption of over 600! That doesn’t include all the cats I’ve met but didn’t do the adoptions for, all the cats I’ve worked with at other rescues, and all the neonatal kittens I’ve helped since becoming the foster coordinator at the beginning of this year. I have over 120 cats and kittens in foster care as I type this! And then, of course, there are all those cats I met between 2010-2013. Which was, you know, a few.)

So it’s with a little bit of awe that I look back on the journey that got me here. It’s too much for one blog post, so I will break everything up into different topics, because let’s face it – not everyone will want to read a million paragraphs about cats in one sitting.

So be on the lookout for many more blog posts coming soon (and hit “follow” if you don’t want to miss any of them)!

Myself with Smirnoff in 2010 (top) and 2015 (bottom).
Myself with Smirnoff in 2010 (top) and 2015 (bottom).

Read More: Socializing a Shy/Fearful Cat

Check out my NEW article “No Cats Under the Bed: Socializing a Shy/Fearful Cat”, which I wrote for Heaven on Earth Society for Animals.

Here’s an excerpt:

For a shy or under-socialized cat, the world can be a scary place. If a cat feels threatened by the world around them (even if these threats are imagined), they can quickly withdraw from social activities and spend all day hiding under the bed or in a closet. What we want is for these cats to gain confidence and claim (or reclaim) ownership of their indoor territory. Working with a shy/fearful cat takes time and patience, but the experience is extremely rewarding!

Read the rest of the article here:
http://www.heavenlypets.org/socializing-a-shy-or-fearful-cat/

Cats That Twitch: Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome

The most famous cat in recent news—Lux, the “911 cat”—made headlines back in March when he attacked his family’s baby and held them hostage at their home in Oregon. The family called 911 for rescue, which then leaked to the media. Perhaps because of its sensational nature (whoever heard of a cat holding anyone hostage?), the story went viral. And not long after that, Jackson Galaxy convinced Animal Planet to go back into production for season 5 of My Cat From Hell (even though they had stopped filming) in order to help Lux and broadcast it on TV.

I’m not interested in anyone’s opinion on the family that owned Lux. What interests me is the medical component to the story. Jackson discovered that Lux suffered from a condition called feline hyperesthesia syndrome (FHS). FHS cats, for whatever reason, suffer from twitching that generally results in self-mutilation. It can happen at any time, though is usually exacerbated by stress (such as a baby pulling the cat’s tail). In Lux’s case, the condition is even more rare because he lashes out at those around him instead of himself. Still, what I like about this episode from Jackson, is that it brings to the forefront a condition that most people—even cat owners—have never even heard of.

AmbrosiaOne of the cats at my shelter, Ambrosia, has FHS. She’s a pretty grey & white tabby, about 3.5 years old, and was transferred to Best Friends from a L.A. city shelter almost a year and a half ago. Ambrosia is a sweet cat. She’ll often climb onto your shoulder and rub against you when you open her cage. She can be sassy at times, but then, she’s been living in a cage-like setting for a long time. (A free-roam room or other housing options would be too stressful for her.) Her tail is partially amputated from her having self-mutilated it, but you wouldn’t notice it right away. Otherwise, she looks like a normal cat. Currently, Ambrosia is in one of our newer single cat cages up front. It’s great because she has more space than she used to, but I’d love to see her not in a cage at all. She’s one of the first cats visitors can see, and yet most people walk right on by her.

Ambrosia is a healthy girl, provided she gets her medication. At first, the shelter tried to simply reduce her stress (which helped a lot in reducing episodes), but they finally decided to also do a drug trial. Ambrosia is currently on gabapentin—an anti-seizure medication—and so far, it seems to have made an even bigger improvement on her behavior. This will most likely need to be a life-long medication.

Ambrosia was already one of the longest resident cats when I began working at Best Friends, and she never gets a serious look by visitors. It’s hard to, when there are plenty of sweet, friendly, young cats without any “issues” also available for adoption. Plus, most people have never heard of FHS. Ambrosia needs to be indoor-only, with someone who understands her condition and will take it seriously. So Ambrosia continues to be overlooked time and again.

It is my hope that due to the recent media sensation of Lux the 911 cat, someone might come into the shelter and be open to adopting a cat like Ambrosia. Maybe a few more people will know what FHS is. It is my hope that Ambrosia, and all special needs cats, will find that special someone sometime soon.

If you, or anyone you know, is looking to adopt a special needs cat like Ambrosia, especially if you/they live in the SoCal area, please email alcoholcats@gmail.com

Together, let’s find Ambrosia a home.

#ADOPTAmbrosia

For more on feline hyperesthesia syndrome, click here and here.