Monday, May 13, 2013

Neglect is abuse.

While I understand on a superficial level that animal hoarders come from a place of goodness rather than a place of abuse (they hold on to the animals, not to hurt them but because they don't think anyone else can take care of them), it's still painful and frustrating to be one of the people that works to clean up that mess.

Last week the rescue I volunteer with ( took in 7 kittens that were supposed to be between 7 and 9 weeks old.  The smallest one weighed only 7 ounces. The largest was only just over a pound.  Most were around 12 ounces.  Mind you, a typical 8 week old kitten should be around 2 pounds.  They were so malnourished, dehydrated and underweight I couldn't get blood from them.  They had crusty eyes, some sort of upper respiratory thing going on and felt like tiny, fragile, delicate little cats.  Like little glass cats, with frail bones. Not like the roustabout kittens I'm expecting at 7 weeks.

'little man'

This little guy was the smallest.  When kittens like this come in, I don't move them out to foster homes. I can't risk losing foster homes because something painful and horrible happens.  I can't risk spreading whatever they have to other kitties in the program.  I can't put the burden of care on another foster that signed up for fun and cute.

So into the double decker ferret cage they went.  The three that weighed the most on the top, the four smallest on the bottom - in hopes of cutting down on the food competition.  I haven't seen these kittens drink water.  I'm not sure they know what to do with it.  So a week later I'm still adding lots of water to the food I give them.

The little man pictured above ate like a beast at first.  In this picture his sad face is smeared with food.  He was all 'munch munch munch' so I was kind of hoping he would make it, even as frail as he was.  He jumped a whopping 3 ounces in 3 days.  And then he plateaued.  He still ate some, but not as well as before.  I was concerned.  But he held on, yet I was worried.

tiny cadbury
So last Thursday, when I got home from work and rescue errands later one night, I was shocked and alarmed to find this guy (tiny cadbury), from the larger group, the monkey that had climbed the bars and been meowing at me an awful lot, lying in the litter box, unable to lift his head, gums white, surrounded by mucus diarrhea.  So we went to the emergency vet.

Things didn't work out.  I was hoping for some supportive care that would get him through whatever.  But it didn't work out that way.  His heart gave out before I had been gone two hours.  It was a sad, sad night.  But I went home and checked on the remaining 6 and weighed everyone and tried to encourage them to eat some food, made sure they were warm, no one was dehydrated.  All those things.

But Friday night I got home and my little man still wasn't eating.  His head wasn't limp, but his gums were white.  I tried some of the things I had learned from the emergency vet on Thursday, a little Karo syrup on the gums to boost his blood sugar.  A little bit of sub-cutaneous fluids to hydrate him.  A little love.  But when he used the litter box I knew there was a problem.  His stool was solid, but black.

the lower level of the ferret cage, these are great for kittens
Foster homes call me a lot worried about blood in the stool.  I always tell them that in general, blood you can see isn't blood to worry about.  It can be stress, poop too hard, all kinds of things.  But those things are not things that kill kittens.  When you see red blood it's lower intestine, on the way out.  When the stool is black, it means there's bleeding in the gut and / or small intestine.  This is the bad blood.  And little man's gums were white, he was anemic and he was loosing blood in his intestines.

So at 2:40 am, we went to the emergency vet.  It was a different doctor from the previous night, and he quickly found a sore on the kitten's tongue that explained the loss of appetite.  It also explained the bleeding, as there were likely other sores from his tongue on down and at least one of them was bleeding.  The options included blood transfusions (that would need to be repeated and might not work) or euthanasia.  Since he was only 9 ounces at this point, and having been through similar situations with tiny cats, I reminded myself that death is a human issue, not a cat issue.  As in, I am the one that's afraid, I am the one that doesn't want to have to make that decision.  For the cat or kitten, the pain and suffering is theirs to endure.  And I could let this guy's suffering stop.  So, the decision was made, and I stayed there and stroked his tiny head as the doctor administered the injection.

this little girl doesn't have a name but is now the smallest
Based on the observations of the sores, we think these guys all have Calicivirus (the bodies have been sent for confirmation).  And the doctor also felt that the virus had been transmitted to the kittens, by the mother, before they were born.

All of my personal cats and all of our rescue cats are vaccinated against this disease (and several others) when they get their 'distemper' or FVRCP vaccine.  I suspect that since the mom's in this situation hadn't had proper medical care the mom's were able to pass this onto these tiny kittens that just didn't have what they needed to fight disease.

Over the past week, during treatment and care of these kitties someone said to me that hoarding was at least not an 'evil' crime.  But watching this and another litter a volunteer poured her soul into pass away slowly from pneumonia and herpes virus complications, my thought is that neglect is very much evil.

No, you didn't beat or break an animal, you didn't set them on fire or shoot them with guns or drown them in a river.  But you neglected a LIVING THING.  Misguided or not, it's neglect.  Neglect is why the adult cats that had these unwanted kittens were not spayed or neutered.  Neglect is why those same cats were not vaccinated.  Neglect is why there was no food or water these kittens could eat.

Neglect is still abuse.

this larger, medium haired calico seems to be doing well
In our human world, laws are such that when people don't take their children to the doctor because they don't believe in treating disease and they die, charges are pressed.  If you left your baby in a pile of filth and didn't feed it while you were smoking meth, you would be arrested and charged.  You might get a manslaughter charge instead of murder, but it would still be wrong, there would still be a penalty.  No one would say 'well, he/she only kept the child home with because he/she is mentally unstable and thought home was the best place for it'.  People would quickly recognize it for the horrible event it was.

So when you look at these photos: These crusty eyes, dirty ears, cats weighing ounces that should have weighed pounds...  and so far, two kittens that didn't survive a week in my (and vet) care.  I only wish you could feel how brittle they are.  They have fat full bellies now, but their ribs and bones and tiny toes still don't have enough flesh to cover them.  They get stuck as they walk because they don't have the toe flesh to retract the claw into.

When you read this, when you look at these pictures, know that this is not simply sad.  It's not just neglect.

This is abuse.