D. E. Larsen, DVM
“Joleen, are you still feeding that feral tomcat out the back door?” I asked.
“I don’t think he is really feral. I am going to catch him one of these days.”
“Catch him. If you get ahold of him, it will be a question mark as to who has caught who,” I said.
Our original clinic on Nandina Street had a large patch of berry vines across the alley from the clinic. That patch of briers was home to a sizable population of feral cats. Joleen had taken a liking to this young black tomcat. She was convinced she could catch him and tame him down.
A couple of weeks later, Joleen came out of the back and washed her hands at the front sink.
“I got him,” she said as if it was no big deal. “I threw him into the isolation ward. It wasn’t so hard. I didn’t even get scratched.”
“What are you going to do with him,” I asked.
“I figure if we neuter, vaccinate and deworm him, then leave him in a kennel for a time, he should tame down just fine. Then I will either take him home, or we could make a clinic cat out of him.”
“I’m not sure about a clinic cat,” I said.
But, so began Blackjack’s sojourn in the clinic.
Our first adventure was transferring him from the isolation room, a small bare room at the time, into a cage in the kennel room. He was not going to be fooled by Joleen’s gentle nature again. It took a capture pole and a lot of clawing and biting at the end of the rod to accomplish the transfer.
Finally secured in a kennel, we made plans to secure his future.
“We are not going to have a tomcat in here for long,” I said. “There is nothing that will stink up a vet clinic worse than tomcat pee.”
“We have time; you can neuter him this afternoon,” Joleen said.
One more wrestling match, and I had an injection of Ketamine into Blackjack. Joleen took the opportunity to comb him out. Blackjack was a short-haired cat, black as could be, but he had been living in the briers for some time now and needed to be spruced up a bit.
Then we neutered, vaccinated, and dewormed him.
“He will be a new man in the morning after his brain surgery,” I said.
Blackjack tamed down in a surprisingly short time. In a couple of weeks, he was given a limited run of the clinic. It was not long that we recognized that he enjoyed people and the cats that were with them. Coming off the street, he was very dog-wise. He could greet a few of the dogs that came through the door. But most of them he avoided with the skills only learned by a feral lifestyle.
He was controlled by the smell of the canned food. Joleen would pop the seal on a can of cat food, and Blackjack would come running from anywhere.
There came a day when Blackjack wanted out the door.
“Do we dare let him out,” Joleen asked, more to herself than to me.
“I think he knows where his home is by now. My guess is he will be back before closing time.”
That was the case. About 4:00, Joleen heard him meowing at the back door. He came in for his can of cat food and then headed to his kennel for the night.
It was not long, and he would come and go by the front door. He learned to scurry through the door as a client would come or go. Jumping up on the counter and almost scaring some lady who had not noticed him following her through the door.
Most clients loved Blackjack, and he loved to sit on the front counter and accept any pats handed out by clients. But unfortunately, not all clients. One of our ‘Cat Ladies’ thought we provided Blackjack a terrible existence.
“It is not right for him to be cooped up in here all the time,” she would say. “He should be in a home, where he is loved.”
“Mary, he has the run of this place,” I said. “He can come and go as he pleases, and his life here is far better than his old life.”
“Well, that may be, but I think he deserves a real home,” Mary said.
It was some months after that conversation that Blackjack left by the front door of the clinic one afternoon and never returned. We looked on the neighborhood streets and through the feral cat colony. There was never a trace of him.
“I bet she took him,” Joleen said. “Poor Blackjack, his life here was far better than she will ever provide.”
“There is no way we will ever know. There are a hundred ways that a cat can meet his fate in this world. We gave him the best we could while he was in our care. And I doubt she would have been capable of catching him out on the street.”
We were still in a sort of grieving status over Blackjack’s loss when Kathy burst through the front door with a limp kitten in her hands.
“The highway crew found this guy in the ditch by our house,” Kathy said. “It looks like he has taken a big whack on the head, but he is alive.”
“If you guys can do something for him, that is fine,” Kathy said. “I can’t afford to do anything for him.”
“We will look him over and see if he is savable,” Joleen said. “If he recovers, we can maybe find him a home.”
This kitten was about 6 weeks old and had a patch of hair gone on the top of his head. Still unconscious, he must have been hit by a car. When I started handling the kitten, he began to stir a little. Other than the patch of missing hair on his head, he looked fine.
I gave him a dose of Dexamethasone, and Joleen went back to settle him in a kennel. Or so I thought. She carried him around in a towel for the rest of the morning.
By noon, the little tabby kitten was back to normal function. We offered him some canned food, and he acted like he hadn’t eaten in a week.
“It looks to me like you have your next clinic cat,” Joleen said.
After devouring his lunch, he was screaming for more. And I did say screaming.
“He sounds like he would make a good Speaker of the House. Maybe we should name him Newt,” I said.
Newt grew up in the clinic. Will, he spent most of his first year in the clinic. The clinic was his domain, he had free run of the place during the day, and we would put him in a large kennel overnight. His voice was the first thing one heard when we came through the door in the morning. He knew he got his breakfast and that the kennel door would be left open.
Newt enjoyed people, and they loved him. He would often perch on the front counter, acting as a greeter. He seemed to have no interest in going through the front door.
He was close to a year old when Bill and Opal were in with Mucho for a check-up. When they completed their visit, they purchased a 25-pound bag of C/D cat food. We were a little surprised when Opal came back into the clinic with the bag of food.
“This bag has a hole in the corner,” Opal said.
Sure enough, there was a small hole in the bag and evidence of scratch and bite marks.
“That looks like Newt has been helping himself to some free meals,” I said. “We will refund that money. Do you want to keep this bag, at no cost, or do you want another one?”
“Oh,” Opal said. “We can keep this one if you can tape it up. We really don’t want our money back.”
I grabbed some packing tape and closed the hole. “You really don’t have any choice, Opal,” I said. “Sandy has already reversed the charge. If I take it back, we will just throw it away. So you may as well get the use of it.”
When Opal left, I went back and inspected our inventory. Newt made good choices. The bland diet foods for liver or kidney failure were not touched. But every bag of C/D had a small hole in the corner.
“Newt, I think you just got canned,” I said. Newt looked at me in a very aloof manner. “I think you earned a trip to the house. I can’t afford to lose hundreds of dollars in inventory to a cat that doesn’t produce any income for the clinic.”
That night Newt went home with us. This transition to the house went off without a hitch. He was quick to stake out his corner on the foot of our bed as he settled into a long life in the Larsen household.