Update on Boudicca

This past week has been stressful. Boudicca became ill again, obviously having issues in the litterbox and, more distressing, her appetite noticeably decreased. She hunched over a lot and backed up when I tried to pick her up, something she has never done before. I took my girl to the vet for an abdominal ultrasound on Tuesday. She has intestinal/small bowel disease, which may or may not lead to cancer. One of the symptoms of this illness was constipation, which in turn led to the loss of appetite and abdominal pain. This is one of the challenges of responsible pet ownership: senior cats can develop more health issues and require more veterinary care. Thankfully, however, she is doing much better due to a cocktail of medications to stabilize her so that she has a healthy appetite and doesn’t have any litterbox issues (either constipation or diarrhea).

We have been able to mix her medications into wet food, which she eagerly awaits twice a day. Every time she sees one of us taking a small plate out of the cupboard she assumes it’s for her and gets very verbal about it. This, of course, alerts the boys and prompts Charlie to give his two cents in a number of ridiculously cute squeaks.

I know Boudicca is feeling better because she has been seeking us out for attention, especially when we sleep. Several nights I have woken up with a very purry Boudicca sitting on my chest or claiming half my pillow. Occasionally she has successfully executed stealth snuggles! I am happy to see Queen B feeling more like her usual sweet, lovey, and quite googly self.


After her vet visit, Boudicca happily reclaimed her box and spent a lot of time keeping me company in my office. She is an excellent supurrviser!

Dog Spotlight: Seeing Eye Anniversary

On January 29, 1929, Morris Frank founded The Seeing Eye, the oldest guide dog school in the United States. This school is the founding member of the US Council of Guide Dog School as well as a fully accredited member of the International Guide Dog Federation. Today we celebrate the anniversary of the school’s founding and the importance of guide dogs everywhere (and by extension, service dogs in general).

What is a guide dog, or more generally a service animal? The Americans with Disabilities Act defines it as: any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Service animals are not the same as therapy animals or emotional support animals. Only service animals are protected by the ADA.

You may see service animals (dogs are the most common) working with their handlers. Remember that these dogs are working and must concentrate on what they need to do on behalf of their handlers. Don’t distract them. I know it’s tempting to want to pet such a well-behaved dog but be considerate. Some handlers are OK with people petting their dogs if their permission is asked for first; other handlers will decline and that’s fine too. Here are some additional etiquette guidelines as well as a few things that handlers want you to know.

If you’d like to learn more about service dogs, especially those assisting the blind, check out Growing Up Guide Pup and Zoe the Seeing Eye Dog.

One more thing to note: FAKE service dogs. Sometimes people try to pass off their pets, including emotional support animals, as service dogs so they can take their pet anywhere with them, enable their pet to fly for free, and avoid having to pay a pet deposit. This is a serious issue for service dogs and their handlers. Untrained pets in public areas, like planes and restaurants, can pose a big risk to those around them. Being able to spot a fake service dog and differentiate such from legitimate service animals is important. Most importantly, DO NOT misrepresent pets as service dogs. Don’t be that person. It’s not cool. Moreover, your actions can have significant consequences for those around you, especially working service dogs and their handlers.

Change a Pet’s Life Day

Egads! I missed Change a Pet’s Life Day! (Things have been a little hectic because Boudicca was sick on Tuesday. Thankfully, she is getting better now.)

Change a Pet’s Life Day (belated) is a pet holiday celebrated on January 24 and intended to encourage adopting pets from shelters and consequently, raising awareness for animal shelters. As a shelter volunteer, I can testify that there are so many wonderful animals that need loving homes. There are pets that would do well with new pet owners and others that would thrive with experienced pet owners. There are young, old, middle-aged, everywhere in between. If you are not a cat or dog person, shelters often have other pets that might strike your fancy such as guinea pigs, hamsters, birds, rabbits, and even pigs and chickens. Here is how you can change a pet’s life:

  1. Adopt. Head to your local shelter and adopt a pet! Many shelters offer special discounts on January 24th while others will hold adoption events throughout the week or on the weekend. Rescue groups will probably have similar events so be sure to look for these. (NB: Adoption is a commitment. One should not adopt a pet without really being sure that this is what you want and that you will be able to care for this pet.)
  2. Foster. Unsure if you want to commit to having a pet? Does your shelter need temporary homes due to space or other needs, such as a pregnant cat or dog? Giving a shelter animal a foster home is a demonstration of compassion and generosity. Whether you foster one time or do it regularly, it does make a difference in pets’ lives!
  3. Donate. Find out what your shelter needs. Does the shelter have a wish list or a Friends of the Animal Shelter organization that could provide this information? Food, toys, collars, leashes, scratch pads or poles, and carriers are commonly asked for items. Money, of course, is always immensely appreciated because it can be used for whatever the shelter needs at the time or for future use.
  4. Volunteer. Do you like to be involved in your community? Do you love animals? Volunteering is a fantastic way to change pets lives on a continuing basis. I enjoy having the opportunity to love on and socialize cats and help out at adoption events so that these lovely kitties get matched to the right homes.
  5. Transform your pet’s life. Would your pet benefit from more exercise or attention? Would a play date with another cat or dog or a new toy make your pet’s day? I’m fairly certain that one of the highlights of Boudicca’s day is when she gets her lap time session in the evening. The boys are equally thrilled by visits and play time.

Rescued Pets in My Life

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This is Chiya! She is one of my parents’ two rescue dogs. She is a sassy and independent Tibetan Spaniel. Originally her name was Holly but my mom changed it to Chiya, which is Spanish slang for “crier,” in honor of her distinctive shrill alarm bark. (Tibetan Spaniels were bred to be watchdogs as well as canine companions.) She excels at being a foot warmer too.

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Here is dog #2, Chiquita! (We call her Chica for short.) She is a Kooikerhondje, which I promise is a dog breed that I did not make up. My parents took her in after her previous owner became very ill with cancer and shortly thereafter passed away. Look at those marvelous ears and that tail! She is such a well-behaved dog and an excellent snuggler as well.

Last year, I volunteered at the Clear the Shelters event on August 19 at my local animal shelter. I intended to show cats and match them to new owners. I did not intend to take home a new cat, let alone two, but I am SO GLAD that we decided to foster and later adopt Charlie and Garrus. They have made a lot of progress since then and both are happier, healthier cats.

In this photo you can see hints of how skinny and scraggly Garrus (then known as Aristotle) was. When he stood up, swaths of fur along his sides were missing (licked it off due to stress in the shelter) and in general his coat looked haggard. He was so skinny that his ribs and knobbly spine were clearly visible. Both he and Charlie looked SO pitiful at the shelter. We quickly learned that Garrus was not eating much and in a lot of pain due to dental issues, which we promptly fixed.

This was the first time Charlie (then known as Tink) emerged from behind or underneath furniture for a significant length of time. A huge scaredy cat when we brought him home, he was highly reactive to people (us), sudden movements, many noises, new objects, and any change. Both boys bolted whenever we stood up; they would only timidly approach if we sat down on the floor and remained very quiet.

Fast forward four months: here are the boys sprawled in the sun. (I took this photo in late December 2017.) Rather than fleeing when I approached, they stretched, slow blinked, trilled and squeaked (Charlie), welcomed scritches, and purred.

Lastly, look at Queen B! In November 2000, a lovey five-month old tuxedo kitten chose ME as her person at the ASPCA. Seventeen years later she is still my girl!

How can YOU change a pet’s life today?

Cat in Distress

All of yesterday turned out to be extraordinarily and unexpectedly stressful. All plans were derailed because Boudicca became suddenly quite sick. In one hour, she had one accident after another, and it immediately became apparent that she could not help herself. She cried as she had a big accident in my office and then threw up. Something was wrong, and it was my job, as the human mom, to do something about it. Queen B was clearly getting quite stressed, and the boys were also mildly alarmed, lying on the ottoman with big eyes and concerned faces. (“Mom, we didn’t make that mess but something is up with Her Royal Highness. Assistance please?”) I, of course, began to panic as I had to deal with a sick elderly cat while trying to clean up all the messes and sanitize everything.

In between sanitizing the floor, throwing various towels and blankets in the wash, and confining Boudicca, I called the vet’s office. Tuesdays are set aside for surgeries but pets can be brought in if they need medical attention. The vet was tied up and I could not wait for her to call me back so I insisted that I speak with a tech. When a tech came on the line, I explained what was going on with Boudicca. The tech, sympathetic to my growing alarm, offered me two options: bring her in as soon as possible so she could be seen before the office became very busy, or to make an appointment for the next morning. I opted for the former.

Then came the issue of getting a sick cat into a carrier. Sick cats can either be totally compliant, perhaps because they realize that you are trying to help them get medical attention, or, conversely, they become ANGRY because they feel so crummy (understandable). Because I was panicking, I wasn’t sure if I could wrangle Boudicca by myself so I called Tracey, my good friend and fellow ailurophile. She was barely awake but understood that I really needed help so she said she would come over.

Minutes passed; I did additional cleaning, cleaned myself up, and got dressed. In doing so I calmed down a little and began to think more rationally. I reasoned, albeit belatedly, that I could at least attempt to get Boudicca into the carrier by myself. I hauled the carrier out from under the living room end table (all the cats saw this and were mildly concerned but no one fled) and put it in the hall bathroom, standing it on its end with the door open. I gingerly scooped up Boudicca, who protested when I did so (another indication that she did not feel well), and, to my relief, managed to slide her into the carrier with minimal fuss. She meowed a bit once she was inside but did so with not nearly as much force as she usually does. I called a very sleepy Tracey back to thank her for her willingness to help early in the morning but I had Boudicca safely in the carrier.

I drove Boudicca to the vet’s office, which quickly became busy shortly after I dropped her off. I called Aaron to inform him what was going on, and later he texted me if I had any updates on Boudicca’s condition. That afternoon the vet called me. Apparently both of us had had busy, stressful days; I was relieved that my sweet girl had been in capable hands during the day and I told the vet so. In between surgeries the vet examined Boudicca, whom she noted was quiet all day with the exemption of making air biscuits for the techs when petted. Queen B had a very inflamed gut, which caused the diarrhea and multiple accidents, and the strain and stress of everything had prompted the vomiting. Oi. However, the vet was confident that this condition was treatable and she was not dehydrated because we caught the diarrhea early before it became severe.

The vet sent her home later that afternoon with an antibiotic and an anti-inflammatory with instructions to give her both for several days. We should see marked improvement within 24 hours. If we do not see improvement, we are to bring her back on Thursday for more intensive diagnostics, such as an abdominal ultrasound, to determine if she has small bowel disease, cancer, or another condition causing her symptoms. I sincerely hope it does not come to that.

The antibiotic is a liquid (with a syringe) and the anti-inflammatory is a quarter of a pill. How do you give a cat these medications? There are several methods:

  1. Liquid medication. This requires finesse and adaptability on your part. In the past, I have also employed fellow cat whisperers, Sam and Tracey, to help me medicate Boudicca.
  2. Pills. Depending on whether your cat is food-motivated or particularly clever, getting said cat to take a pill can be either pretty easy or a challenge. We have had success using Pill Pockets but smarty pants cats may catch on what you’re doing and may spit out the pill.
  3. Shameless bribery or trickery. Since we had to give Boudicca two medications, both had a bitter taste (you’d think that someone would have invented tuna-flavored cat meds by now), and we did not want her to fight us or not take her medication, we disguised them in a tablespoon or so of wet food. We crushed up the pill and mixed it in, along with the liquid medication, with the wet food. Boudicca was SO EXCITED to be given permission to eat such a delicacy and licked the plate clean. She has done this for two doses. Fingers crossed, this will be our routine for a while until she finishes the medication and fully recovers.

Oh, and the vet instructed us to give Boudicca extra TLC. Obviously, as a cat mom who loves her girl to bits, I have to follow the vet’s orders and oblige. TLC coming right up Queen B.


Boudicca presented her head for a smooch this morning because she did not get enough yesterday.

Necessary Hassle Part Two

After we bring our cats home from the vet, it’s normal for them to want to decompress and sleep. It’s also somewhat expected for them to feel a bit “off,” especially if they’ve been prodded or poked with needles, as they were when they were given their vaccines.

After we brought them home from the vet, their usual post-vet routine was thrown off. Since Monday was a holiday and Aaron had time off from work, we had scheduled our back door to be replaced. (We also scheduled the vet appointment for earlier that morning so that both Aaron and I would be available to usher cats into carriers.) We anticipated that the work would be noisy and, since the entire door would come out, we needed to confine the cats for their safety. We put Boudicca in my office with a litter box, food, water, and her comfy box bed. We put Charlie in our bedroom with access to food, water, and the Cat Genies in the master bathroom.

Our original plan was to confine Garrus along with Charlie since we knew that the boys enjoy one another’s company. We tried different tactics to catch Garrus or convince him to go into the bedroom but he was not having any of it. He planted himself in the lower cat condo on the tower and refused to budge. Rather than causing further stress by having to pry him out of there, we simply hung out next to the cat tower and made sure he did not venture out while the work was being done. Once the noise started, Garrus might have regretted not going into the bedroom. He gave us a mildly displeased face with some side-eye, but he gives us this same expression whenever his nap is interrupted.

Thankfully, the door was replaced in two hours. However, during that two hours, we realized that something was up with Charlie. We periodically checked on both Boudicca and Charlie and offered them comfort and love. Boudicca, although not happy about being confined in my office, was fine. Charlie, on the other hand, was on the bed giving me anxious, sad eyes. I checked in the bathroom and saw that there was a big mess to clean up. Charlie was definitely feeling gunky.

At first we thought it was a stress reaction in response to being at the vet and perhaps also by the noise from the door being replaced. As the day progressed, we noticed that Charlie was not acting like his normal happy-go-lucky self. He was noticeably subdued, quiet, and appeared to be ill at ease. It was also evident that his appetite had decreased. When he tried to eat in the afternoon, he threw up again. The next morning, we woke up to hear him crying in a Cat Genie, followed by an unpleasant squirting sound. He had diarrhea. More cleaning up and TLC applied to kitty.

I got worried. I had never seen this type of reaction in a cat following getting a vaccine. I did look it up and found that cats can have adverse reactions to vaccines. Sometimes it manifests as itching or sneezing. Other times there is swelling at the injection site. Still other cats react by vomiting or with diarrhea. This is what appeared to have happened to Charlie.

Compounding my worry is that on Tuesday, much of Central Texas was effectively immobilized by a strong cold front that resulted in sleet, ice, and, in some areas, hail. The storm began on Monday night. We had been strongly advised to stay off the roads. Schools from San Antonio to Houston were closed on Tuesday, as were many businesses and city departments. My vet’s office was open, however. As they always do after an appointment, a tech makes a follow-up call to check on the pet or pets seen at the office the previous day. While I was happy to report that Boudicca was fine, I described Charlie’s symptoms and the tech agreed that it was likely a reaction to the vaccine. She offered me two options: I could bring him into the office or I would wait and monitor him at home.

I, for one, did not want to venture out onto icy roads. I also did not want to submit Charlie to further stress by taking him back to the vet unless it was absolutely necessary. I decided to monitor him at home. He was not constantly vomiting nor was his diarrhea severe. We had seen him have a drink of water at least once. If he was not eating or drinking at all, or his vomiting or diarrhea was much worse, I would have reconsidered.

Charlie was quite happy to be reunited with his buddy after the construction on the back door ceased. Garrus did not seem willing to give up his spot in the condo so Charlie made do beside him.

Throughout this whole experience, Garrus often paced and seemed anxious. He kept giving me this reproachful looks, as though saying, “Excuse me, human parental units. There seems to be something amiss with my companion. Could you attend to his needs, please?” Since Charlie was not hanging out in his usual spot, Garrus apparently took it upon himself to save it for him and superintend things from his perch on the uppermost platform on the cat tower.

Garrus always sits so tall and regally but I felt here, especially in his expression, that he gave off a hint of sarcasm as well.

“Madam, why are you taking my photograph? I have important business to attend to while I am up here. I must get on.” –Garrus

I could not resist taking this photo because Garrus was being SO CUTE.

Later Charlie moved from the chair in the living room to our bed. We found Garrus being very sweet with him, grooming Charlie occasionally and snuggling with his buddy for hours. This seemed to help Charlie relax and feel better. We, of course, visited both boys and gave them love but we also wanted to let Charlie get enough sleep. The boys’ routine had been thrown off by Charlie being sick. Only Boudicca, who remained Miss Oblivious throughout this affair, was perfectly content to camp out on the couch and snooze without concern.

Observe Boudicca demonstrating the feline pinwheel position. Score: 10.0

The boys made a heart shape while cuddling. Cue the Aww factor.

Late Tuesday afternoon Charlie seemed to perk up a bit. He ate a little of his kibble and kept it down. That evening, when Aaron and I sat on the couch, I had Boudicca in my lap. This is our routine. Charlie asked if he could come up and sit on the pillow beside me. Of course I let him, and we had a lovely visit that involved many pets, polite snuggles, and much purring. I was quite pleased by this since I had not heard him purr all day. Garrus came up on the back of the couch for a bit then later enticed Charlie to play with him for a short while. We noticed that this play session wasn’t as vigorous as usual and did not involve much chasing or scampering. Garrus, who generally does not roughhouse, was being quite gentle but definitely persistent in inviting Charlie to move and play. This seemed to do Charlie some good. The boys did turn in early and resume their snuggling as they napped. Charlie slept at the foot of the bed for most of the night.

This morning the ice had melted and Central Texas started moving again. Both Charlie and Garrus wanted to visit us in bed and both purred loud. Not too long afterward, this is how I found the boys…

Look how cute they are. BEHOLD THE CUTENESS.

The vet’s office called to check on Charlie as well. He has been able to eat and hasn’t vomited or had any diarrhea in a day. (Of course I’ll keep monitoring him to ensure he’s completely out of the woods.) He’s perked up, chirpy, and noticeably relaxed. He is clearly happy to snuggle with Garrus and apparently finds his buddy to be the perfect pillow.

What have I learned from this experience? Cats and dogs alike can have adverse reactions to vaccines, and these reactions can vary widely. Getting your pet vaccinated in necessary and in many states required by law. However, if your pet appears to feel gunky after getting a shot, contact your vet. Do the right thing. The right thing may in fact involve a snuggle, as Charlie and Garrus frequently demonstrate.

Necessary Hassle Part One

Not long ago, our vet’s office reminded us that both Boudicca and Charlie were due to receive their rabies vaccines. Charlie had received his initial shots at the shelter, but since he had been adopted and returned a few times, his rabies tag had been lost at some point. We had also planned to test Boudicca’s T4 to determine if her thyroid levels have lowered to normal. Rather than schedule two separate visits, we scheduled them simultaneously. That meant the hassle of corralling two very different cats into carriers.

As expected, Charlie felt the world was ending and protested pitifully about it. Aaron was able to envelope him in a towel and scooch him into the carrier. We surprised a sleepy Boudicca and popped her into the carrier in under 30 seconds (!), although she subsequently emphatically meowed her displeasure about this perceived betrayal. Boudicca made many protests and continued to leave a running commentary about the whole experience.

In the end, everyone did well. Yes, the cats were unhappy about the situation but no one had to be sedated and no one peed, bit, scratched, or had a complete nervous breakdown. We were actually early to our appointment so that moved everything ahead of schedule (in a good way). The cats are up to date on their shots. (Garrus was already up to date on his.) Charlie is at a healthy weight and the vet is quite pleased with the progress we have made with him (and Garrus) since August. Although we are treating Boudicca for her thyroid, she is pretty healthy for a senior cat (one of the techs mentioned that she did not look 17) and she’s a happy girl. Cat Parent Achievement Level Up.

Dog Spotlight: Training

I’m sure a few reading this might wonder, “Your blog is about cats so why are you talking about dogs?” Fair question. One, I love both cats and dogs. (I also think rats, chinchillas, and many other pets are cool too.) Two, it’s important. Three, it ties in with shelters, which is another topic I frequently discuss on Purry Home Companion. So there you go.

January, among other things, is National Train Your Dog Month, which was created and sponsored by the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT). One crucial aspect of responsible pet ownership is ensuring that you teach your pet (whether it is a cat or a dog) house manners. For a cat, it is using a litter box, not to scratch (destructive clawing), and not to bite (bite inhibition), for example. For a dog, manners can include basic commands like “sit” and “stay,” emergency recall, and how to walk properly on a leash. On a walk, your dog should walk right next to you, not in front and not pulling. (Incidentally, January is also Walk Your Pet Month.) Naturally, APDT developed a program called CLASS, or Canine Life and Social Skills, which you can read about on their website (linked above). Another training test is the Canine Good Citizen program through the American Kennel Club. Therapy dogs, for example, have to go through this training, or something similar, in order to be adequately prepared to perform therapy work.

While I volunteer in the cat room at my animal shelter, I am very pleased to know the volunteers that work with the dogs do teach them basic manners and how to walk on a leash nicely. Many dogs are surrendered to shelters because they are not trained and owners find them too energetic or that they do not want to put the effort and time into training their pet. This is most unfair to the dog, who may be adopted more than once before finding the right owner. By teaching the dogs manners, the shelter has increased the chances of their animals being adopted, dramatically shortened the dogs’ stay in the facility, and reduced the likelihood of those animals being returned–a win-win for everyone. The shelter has also had great success in placing dogs with Starmark Academy, and at least two dogs have since graduated to working animals in K-9 units. How exciting is that?

The point I am trying to make here is that it is vitally important to teach your dog manners so that your pet behaves well in private and in public. This is part of being a responsible dog owner. Do not expect to receive a dog (from a shelter or a breeder) already trained. You must put effort into working with and training your dog. Do you have questions, lack questions, or are you running into issues making progress with your pet? You may want to consider enlisting the help of a professional. Yes, training takes time, patience, work, and even a bit of money, but it does pay off in the long run.

Does anyone really want to have an ill-mannered, untrained dog? An out of control animal can pose a danger to you, your loved ones, and to others, and that is a matter of public safety. A dog that has never received any training poses great risks, even if that dog is not aggressive. For example, a large, unrestrained, hyperactive dog bounding across a yard and into the street can run in front of a car, posing a real driving hazard. This same animal can crash into pedestrians on the sidewalk or children playing next door. An uncontrolled dog poses a very real hazard to working service animals and their handlers, who may be injured or traumatized by this experience. A negative experience with another dog can seriously impair a service animal’s ability to work or even compel early retirement. It’s very serious.

As always, demonstrate your love for your pet by being responsible and doing the right thing. By doing so, you’ll have a happy, well-mannered canine companion that can comfortably interact with others in and out of your home. I, for one, enjoy having upstanding canine citizens! How about you?