Thankfulness for a Cat and a Veterinarian
At this time of year, I wanted to reflect something I’m thankful for. During my time in practice in both Florida and Kingston, a question I’ve been asked a lot is “why did you become a veterinarian?” Whether it is because a kid is curious how they can be a vet, somebody wants to know how I can do certain parts of my job (typically euthanasia), or if I’m being accused of being in it for the money, during this time of year I wanted to share my story about why I’m thankful for a veterinarian and a cat.
April 1986 – My dad arrives home with a new “dependent” for mom to declare during tax season. A small kitten was found playing with a plastic bag in the middle of the street and he was scooped up by my dad. We named him Zorro, an amazing tuxedo cat who found his way into our home and my heart. Mom had given me the responsibility of caring for Zorro and he & I bonded. I was especially fond of his crooked tail (shaped like a “Z”) that had been previously broken and the strong headbutts he would give to show that he cared. In 1995 around American Thanksgiving-time, he became acutely ill…or so we thought. Zorro had been showing all the signs of diabetic ketoacidosis except my mom & I had no clue what the signs were at the time or even knew that cats could even become diabetic. We arrived home one Sunday from a weekend campout and found Zorro in a semi-comatose state on the floor but with 2 other cats we hadn’t noticed any changes in drinking, urination, or appetite.
First thing Monday morning, we took him to our regular vet who diagnosed him then advised us he would need ICU care so we took him to Hollywood Animal Hospital where received a more thorough explanation off the diagnosis and a guarded prognosis for the return to good health of a cat who was “mine.” The veterinarian who took on Zorro’s case explained everything to us and she was very honest about the difficult road ahead. He was admitted to the clinic and each day he got progressively better.
On Thanksgiving night, we had our dinner and prepared some turkey to take to Zorro in the hospital when we were going to pick him up. While we were waiting in the room to see him again and go over the discharge instructions, the veterinarian came in and told us he had unexpectedly passed away. I had known death before but not one that affected me so greatly. Even though he was gone, our veterinarian still took the time to answer any questions we had and assured us that we hadn’t done anything wrong. We simply had been uninformed to be able to recognize the problem and get him help sooner but as he had improved, his passing was not fully explainable.
The light bulb clicked on…I made the decision to pursue a career as a veterinarian. Sure I loved animals all along. It wasn’t because of the money (because honestly, veterinarians don’t get paid as much as people think). It wasn’t because of the high ratios of women to men in the profession (as my grandfather kidded me). It was simply a chance to be able to help both people and animals at the same time. I had always been community service oriented and enjoyed helping others but until this moment it hadn’t clicked.
I investigated what I needed to do and pursued my goal of becoming a veterinarian. After graduating from the University of Illinois, I returned to Hollywood Animal Hospital as an intern and later an associate. To this day, I make a point to return the kindness and compassion to my patients and their families especially when facing a potential end of life scenario. It’s also the reason I do this blog to help others have a reliable source of information so that they don’t have the same experience.
I regret not knowing back then what we should have been looking for. Our veterinarian didn’t have to take the time explain things to us, but she did, and ultimately we were able to recognize the signs later on in our other cat Shutterbug who also became diabetic. Because of our experience with Zorro, Shutterbug was able to have a great long life with controlled diabetes for many years. Yes, it was sad that we lost our cat Zorro but I’m thankful for the compassion of a veterinarian who made it easier to accept the experience and set me on the road to paying it forward.
Acknowledgements: Dad, thanks for picking up the little guy all those years ago. Now you know the truth, it wasn’t the baby opossums. Mom, thank you for not writing Zorro off all those years ago and finding a way to try and help him. I love you guys!