Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Saying Goodbye....

It is always hard to say goodbye to a companion. When pet owners find themselves at that stage in their companion's life, most accept the responsibility to say their goodbyes, humanely and compassionately.

It's equally difficult to say goodbye for those who work in the animal welfare industry. Whether a rescuer or a foster, each animal that comes into their care, often times becomes a companion to those who care for them. And most of these sweet innocent victims just reach deep inside the heart's of those who saved them, and take a giant piece of it.

Fredo was no different. Despite his unstable past, he continued to show unconditional love to the human race.

Fredo, was a handsome gray tabby male who had a life that went unnoticed by most people. Until now.

Over 10 years ago, Fredo was adopted to a family who couldn't live without him, entering his new home as a young kitten, playful and fun. But once he entered adult hood, just a mere 1 1/2 years into his life, he was no longer cherished by his new family and they opted to give him away.

His new family gave him a second chance at life. They too professed their unended love for him. It wasn't until he started to bite a toddler that came into the family before Fredo was no longer "wanted". Instead of the family taking Fredo to the vet to see if there might be a medical reason for his biting they opted to approach his biting as a behavior issue and began punishing him with "time outs". Frequently locked in a room and isolated from family members, Fredo spent a good portion of his adult life, alone. He would get to snuggle at night with his owners and on occasion, was allowed to roam about the house when kids were not around. But that didn't prevent him from continuing to give unconditional love to his human owners.

Then the day came where Fredo bit "for the last time". And the owners wanted him gone...that day!

Despite Fredo being adopted by an organization that clearly spells out their adoption and return policy, Fredo was taken to a different shelter. The reason for return: "biting!", a death sentence by most animal shelters that operate as Animal Control and use euthanasia as a management tool for their intake of animals.

Lucky for FREDO, a microchip saved his life. He was returned to the original rescue and his life spared.

Fredo entered foster care, where, he settled in very quickly and comfortably. He was carefully assessed and it came to pass that Fredo was deemed a "non-biter", at least for any behavior issues. Fredo was a lover! He loved to sleep and snuggle with his new owner, and in the same Fredo fashion as before, he shared of himself so unconditionally that he became a favorite of his new foster family.

Last night Fredo died...suddenly.

Lying on the pillow beside his foster's head, Fredo purred loudly while being petted to sleep, like he had been so many nights before. And the night ended, like it had so many nights before, with Fredo and Foster snuggled together as they sleep.

But shortly into the night, the foster was awakened by Fredo's labored breathing. By 4:00 am Fredo had passed. And his foster, who he had found a special place in their heart, sat in shock...wondering what happened.

A necropsy was performed the next day and the cause of death was Heart Failure caused by Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

A heart condition that is becoming more talked about by veterinarians and pet owners. Often times there is no warning. Pet owners will leave their pets while they head off to work and when they come home their pet is deceased and pet owners left heartbroken.

As in the case with Malcolm. Malcolm entered foster care, where his owner fell madly in love with his vocal  cantankerous, but loving personality. This handsome brown tabby male was left at home, as usual, while his owner went to work. When he came home, he found his beloved Malcolm in distress in his kitty bed with both hind legs paralyzed. In Malcolm's case, he suffered from an Arterial Thromboembolism. After a trip to the emergency clinic, Malcolm's condition was so advanced not even surgery to remove the clot causing the blockage could save his life. After intense consultation with the specialists who were working hard to save Malcolm's life, his owner said his tearful goodbye and sent Malcolm onto a pain-free journey over the Rainbow Bridge.

In two cases beloved felines were lost to a heart condition that often has a grim outcome. And in most cases, it's done without warning.

But when caught in time, some kitties can live a full life. In one article, a vet suggested to pet owners that they ask that their vet take their kitties blood pressure during their annual exam. Often times this simply procedure can detect a heart "issue" whereas, further tests might be suggested and possibly the heart condition can be caught and managed, prolonging their life.

It's important that we, as pet owners become informed and educated and not to solely rely on vets to know our pet's health. Felines especially, are very good at disguising their pain and symptoms of diseases and health issues are often not discovered until it's too late. Veterinarians are trained experts on the science and body of an animal, but pet owners know their pets behavior patterns better than their vet. Often times diagnosis is done by the process of elimination from a vet as the search for the cause or disease that don't always show up in radiographs or bloodwork. By observing, recording and discussing openly with your vet any and all changes in your pet's diet, stool, activity level, weight and personality, you can help the vet diagnose your cat's health issues and possibly save it's life.

As this "condition" becomes more popular, we recommend that when you notice a behavior change in your pet, that you contact your vet immediately and begin the process of discovery. It could save his or her life!

While there is no cure for Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, we felt it important to share Fredo and Malcolm's story. We believe that every companion animal's death can teach us something...and save a life down the road! Our mission is to share what we learn, in the hopes, that our losses can become more time with your pet on this earth!

In memory of "Fredo", "Malcolm" and my beloved "Potiphar".
Linda R. Blakely, Director

Raccoon Valley Animal Sanctuary & Rescue.


  1. Well stated. I agree that the death of an animal companion is tragic enough, but when it's unexpected or at the very least preventable, then the tragedy is compounded.
    True, you could drive yourself crazy trying to continually second guess every new nuance in your pets physical condition or behavior, but not being observant and totally relying on a 10 minute physical exam definitely has its consequences. Some Vets may be annoyed by their "customers" questioning a hasty diagnosis. If that's the case, it's time to find another Vet. One who respects the fact that you do know your pet better than anyone else; and your concerns are valid. Better to question now than hearing,"I'm sorry, it's too late, there's nothing we can do."
    Yup, I agree ... taking a proactive position with your pet's health may not prevent the unexpected, but at least you won't have the guilt of wondering if there was something you should have or could have done to prevent it.

  2. Sprite, rescued by us as a feral kitten along with her brother Pooka, was diagnosed with a heart murmur when she was very young. It was a slight one -- a 1 on a scale of 1-6. Our vet explained that if it got worse, it could develop into cardiomyopathy and she would need blood pressure pills (if I remember correctly) at that point. Fourteen years later, her murmur is at a 2 on a 1-6 scale -- still low. Because we are aware of it, we know to ask our vet to check it when we bring her in.

    I mourn the passing of Fredo, Malcolm and Potiphar (about whom I remember talking to Linda when he was not doing well). The Rainbow Bridge will have many familiar faces waiting for so many of us -- and none more happy to see us than the fosters given a second (or third) chance by people like the ones associated with Raccoon Valley.

  3. James VaccaJanuary 20, 2012

    Many thanks for your kind words about Malcolm. As his owner and caretaker it was quite a blow when his condition manifested. Education is power and that's exactly what we need to combat this in the future. I know I will be asking for blood pressure readings on any future furry friends in my life.

    We'll meet again Malcolm, on the Rainbow Bridge.

  4. James, Malcolm passed in loving arms, something he may never have knowned had you not opened your heart and home to him. For that, we are all here at RVAS, forever grateful.

    Our hearts ache that your time with him was so short, but we know, from seeing him, his life was full!

    Thank you...for finding us...for loving him!

  5. Sending my shared love and tears, my 16 year Jasper passed from cancer 2 days ago, and I was with her to the end. Some get a longer time with us, we get blessed that way, some have a shorter time, and they touch our hearts just as deeply. We knew these loving souls cause we were lucky enough to be chosen to have them in our lives, and I believe we will be reunited with them again one day ♥