Monday, April 30, 2012

The Hardest Decision

Sienna kitten

I first saw a picture of a Somali cat perhaps thirty years ago. I thought they were the most beautiful cats I had ever seen, and I hoped to have one someday. Now I do. Her name is Sienna. She is a ruddy Somali, a longhaired cousin to Abyssinians. Somali breeders are few and far between. I got Sienna from a breeder in Detroit. When I arrived at airport cargo to pick her up, I could hear her before I saw her. Oh she was annoyed. She was about the size of a guinea pig, but she wanted OUT of that crate. I fell in love with her instantly.
Trying to catch the soccer ball
Chewing my straw
Sienna is three years old now. She has indeed grown into the most beautiful cat I have ever seen. She has funny habits; she loves to unroll (and chew) toilet paper, actually to chew any kind of paper she can find. I often discover “hole-punched” papers that she has bitten into. She loves to chew hair, too. At least once almost every day she finds me sitting in the big overstuffed chair-and-a-half in the living room ... she climbs onto my chest and snuggles in, purring and kneading me with her paws, all the while inching upward gradually until she can also chew on the ends of my hair. This appears to bring her supreme pleasure.
Two years ago when we got our Abyssinian kitten, Hobnob, I made elaborate arrangements to keep the two cats separate so they could accustom themselves to each other’s scent gradually. My concerns were groundless. The first time Sienna approached the door Hobnob was behind, she began to chirrup like a queen with kittens. I let her slip inside, and she immediately took over where his own mother had left off, grooming him and keeping him company. When Ezri the Bengal kitten joined the family last year, she received mothering from Sienna as well.
Sienna with medicine port
Last September, Shane and I came home from a week’s vacation to find Sienna startlingly, scarily thin. Her red blood cell count was down to six, almost impossibly far below a normal of low thirties to forties. Her rare blood type meant that we almost lost her there and then. But it turned out that Hobnob shared that rare type, and was able to donate some of his blood for a transfusion. The Somali-Abyssinian cousinship saved Sienna’s life. She spent over two months in a large cage so that she couldn’t accidentally pull out the port that had been installed so that I could give her twice-daily medication through it. Throughout all of this she looked and acted virtually normal - perhaps a little quieter than usual but that was the only difference I could see.
In December,  looking and acting normal again

In December she came off medications and seemed fine. But by January she felt thin to me again. Her red blood cell count had dropped from its high in the thirties back down to nine. Further testing showed that she has a condition called “osmotic fragility.” Basically, her red blood cells are abnormally formed, making them appear foreign and hostile to her white blood cells, which attack and kill them. This is not a curable condition. Sienna and I travel to the vet’s office six days a week for her to get a steroid shot. I could give them to her here, myself, but there is another complication, not a surprising one really. Sienna now avoids me at almost every opportunity. She knows that my walking toward her could end in her being put into her travel crate and taken to the vet for a shot, so as soon as she sees me, she shoots under the bed or down the stairs, as far from me as she can get. Sadly, her limited understanding doesn’t allow her to realize that she is safe once we’ve been to the vet’s office and come home again; she still runs and hides from me, all day long. The only time she feels that I am safe to approach is when I am sitting in the chair in the living room. She will still come and climb on my lap occasionally then.
So, what to do. She looks and acts healthy and normal. She chases and plays with the other cats, avidly watches birds at the window bird feeder, eats with gusto. But she no longer feels safe in her own home. How long should I keep giving her daily shots? Eventually she will develop diabetes or other complications from the steroid drugs. In the meanwhile, though, there is the stressful hunt-chase-capture ordeal involved with getting her daily shot. I could give the shots to her here but I honestly don’t think that would reduce her stress; she is actually rather relaxed at the vet’s office, accepting treats and purring. It’s the hunt-chase-capture that frightens her, and that would have to happen wherever she got the shot. As terrible as it feels to even think about such things, there is also the cost to consider. I am paying $18 per day, six days a week, for her shot visits, plus the cost of a monthly (or thereabouts) red blood cell count check. If the end result of that, after three months or six months or a year, was going to be a healthy cat, it would be worth it, no question. But the sad truth is that this is not going to end well for Sienna, no matter how much money I spend.  If I stop the shots she will get increasingly more anemic until she dies. If I continue them, eventually the steroid overload will kill her.
She’s so beautiful and sweet, and she looks so well. 
But just now I turned and glanced at her, lying on the cat climber watching birds out the window, and when she saw me looking, she jumped down and darted under the bed.

Glamour girl under the pool table lights

Update February 15, 2013.  I took Sienna off all medication in May, 2012. Her veterinarian thought she might last two weeks to a month. She got thinner and weaker ... but then starting putting weight back on and re-gaining strength. Amazingly, she is still with us, almost a year later. She has periods when she seems frail, but then she gains weight back again. Her spirits are good and she is playful and active. We don't understand it but we feel so lucky. Who knows how long it will last ... Meanwhile we appreciate every day with her.

Update December 17, 2013. Sienna is gone. During her last seven or eight months she got steroid shots at the vet's office once a month, and did very well. But after her December shot, she started going quickly downhill. She became very thin and frail, however stayed lively, cheerful, and active until just a few days before she died, when she began to spend most of her time sleeping. She spent her last evening purring quietly on my lap while we watched a Christmas movie under the lights of the Christmas tree. The next morning she died under the guest room bed. I brought the dogs in to see her body. They sniffed her, and were very quiet and subdued. Then I took them out of the room and brought the other cats in. They spent a long time examining her body. Then Hobnob, who Sienna had raised since he arrived here as a kitten, began to walk around the room, making the little 'chirrup' call that Sienna had used with him when he was a kitten. I have never heard Hobnob call this way before. Afterward, he sat with her body and looked at her for a long time.

We had her a year and a half longer than we expected to. We are so grateful.  

1 comment:

  1. Oh, sweetheart. I'm so sorry. This isn't an easy situation at all. As heartbreaking as the medical situation poor Sienna is in, your lovely relationship with her has been the victim of this malady as well. You once helped me through a cat decision, assuring me that you'll know when the right time comes. You will definitely do what is best, too, and know when it's time. I'm so, so sorry. Blessings.