Isabelle, Saved by a Bite

D. E. Larsen, DVM

The two girls standing at the counter were holding something bundled in a sweatshirt. They were young girls, probably 16 or 17. 

“I hope you can help us,” the young blond girl, Sidney, said. “This cat was hit by a car out in front of our house, and she is hurt pretty bad.”

“Whose cat is it?” Sandy asked.

“I don’t know, we have never seen it before. But we couldn’t just leave it lying in the street.”

“Are either of you 18,” Sandy asked?

“No, but this is not our cat.”

Joleen ushered them into the exam room and sat the bundle on the exam table.

“Let’s look at what you have here,” Joleen said.

“She is pretty scared,” Sidney said.

Joleen said. “I think I had better get the doctor.”

Joleen and I unwrapped the sweatshirt with care. The young calico cat poked her head out of the sweatshirt. I grabbed her by the nape of the neck. With some petting and some soothing words, she calmed down and relaxed under my grip.

When we got her out of the sweatshirt, she was bleeding from her right hindfoot. The foot was mangled. Mangled well beyond repair. Most of the skin was gone, and broken bones were sticking out everywhere.

“Whose cat is this,” I asked?  

“We have never seen it before,” Sidney said. “It was hit out in front of our house.

“We will check around, but if we can’t find an owner, we will probably have to put her to sleep. We can’t let her suffer from that foot.”

The girls said their goodbyes to the cat they thought they had saved, and they collected their bloodied sweatshirt.

“You guys give Sandy your contact information and a parent’s name. In case we need to contact you for some reason,” I said as they departed the exam room.

At the front desk, Sandy was busy getting their information.  Sue, the little brunette, held out her hand and showed Sandy a deep bite wound at the base of her thumb.

“Did that cat bite you,” Sandy asked?

“Yes,” Sue said. “She is not mean. She was just scared and in pain.”

“This changes the whole thing,” Sandy said. “Just a minute while I get the doctor.

“Dave, one of those girls was bitten when they picked up this cat,” Sandy said.

“Great,” I said, looking down at the little cat. “You just got an extension on your death sentence.”

“Did you make sure we have all the necessary contact information of these girls and on a parent of Sue’s. We will have to hang onto this cat for 10 days. That probably means I will need to amputate this foot unless the County Health Department authorizes another option.”

I stepped out to the front office to look at Sue’s hand.

“Sue, that bite wound is a major injury. A cat is the only animal that has put me in the hospital. And that was from a bite wound not too different from yours. You want to call your doctor and get some treatment instructions as soon as you get home. We will report this bite wound to the County Health Department. They will probably contact you. You probably gave us some extra time to try to find an owner. We have to keep the cat for 10 days to make sure it doesn’t have rabies.”

“What are you going to do with her foot,” Sidney asked?

“I will probably do a modified amputation at the joint. Just removing the injured part of the foot. If we find an owner, I will do a full amputation. Either way, we will hold this cat here for the full 10 days.”

“That makes us feel better,” Sue said.

The girls left feeling as good as could be expected. They were going home to search for an owner of this little calico cat. We were left doing surgery with little or no chance of getting paid.

“Set up surgery for just a simple amputation,” I said to Joleen. “This is a contaminated wound, and I am going to remove this foot through the hock joint. I won’t need anything other than a standard surgery pack.”

We finished the appointments for the day and then took the cat to surgery. In that time before surgery, Sandy had the cat calmed down and purring.

“What do we want to call her for the record,” Sandy asked?

“It makes no difference to me, you pick a name, and we will use it.”

“I think we will name her Isabelle,” Sandy said.

The surgery was brief. There was enough skin to cover the stump with no problem. I removed the foot by cutting through the tarsal joints, ligated the bleeding vessels, and closed the skin over the stump. Now we just had to recover her, control the pain, and wait out the 10 days.

“What is going to happen after 10 days,” Joleen asked? 

“If we don’t have an owner, she gets put to sleep.”

The days passed slowly. Sandy spent more and more time with Isabelle. She was labeled a Rabies Suspect because she was on the County watch list, and the staff was supposed to limit their contact with the patient. I mentioned that fact to Sandy.

“Do you consider me staff,” Sandy asked? “I don’t consider myself staff.”

I think it was the third day when Sandy said, “I don’t think I want you to put Isabelle to sleep. She is so sweet, I think we should make her a clinic cat.”

There was little reason for me to respond. I was probably the only person in the entire community who thought I ran this clinic. 

“You are probably right. It will make those girls feel better. And I can watch to see how well she does with a low leg amputation.”

And so it was written, when the 10 days of isolation were up, the County Health Department and the two girls were both notified that Isabelle was alive and well. Isabelle took up her new residence on the front desk, close to Sandy at all times.

Isabelle was a friendly cat. If she was away from the desk when a client came through the door, she would come running and jump up on the counter. Most people were surprised to see she only had three feet if they noticed at all.

Her residence at the clinic was over a year. Much longer than Newt’s and nearly as long as Blackjack’s. Her problem started softly. When some clients would pet her, she would nip at them. The nips soon became a soft bite, where Isabelle would grab the offending hand with her teeth and hold it for a second. Never breaking the skin, but the threat was there.

“I think the risk is too high to keep Isabelle here. We are going to have to take her home. One of these days, she is going to nail someone.”

Sandy agreed, and Isabelle made the trip to the house with us. Newt was still with us in those days. I always wondered if they compared notes.

As the years passed, Isabelle turned up missing one day. After some searching, she was found on the neighbor’s porch. We brought her home, and the following week, the neighbor called to tell Sandy that she was back on his porch. Sandy insisted on her becoming an indoor cat after those episodes.

As a three-legged house cat, Isabelle became a little overweight but still lived a long life in the Larsen household.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

10 thoughts on “Isabelle, Saved by a Bite

  1. I loved Isabelle’s story!

    “I think it was the third day when Sandy said, ‘I don’t think I want you to put Isabelle to sleep. She is so sweet, I think we should make her a clinic cat.’ There was little reason for me to respond. I was probably the only person in the entire community who thought I ran this clinic.” I had a good chuckle when I read that. I can picture the resigned look you must have had on your face. You will always be remembered for having a good heart.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s awesome! It’s exactly what I was hoping for. 🙂 I hope it helps with book sales too. I think readers would really benefit from them and from reading your stories.


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