D. E. Larsen, DVM
Peggy was lying on the kitchen floor and reaching as far as possible under the wood cookstove.
“I can almost reach him,” Peggy said.
“Leave him alone. He will just scratch you,” I said. “Jerd doesn’t like us.”
Jerd was our grandmother’s cat. He was a short-haired, white cat with one blue eye and one yellow eye. He was a loner and spent much of his time hunting and sometimes fighting the other barn cats. And he was death on grandkids. He was fine when we were watching him from across the room. But try to touch him, and he was all claws.
The only time he would tolerate our presence was when we were helping him find mice in the haymow of the lower barn. We could scatter hay, and the mice would run in all directions. He seemed to be able to catch one with each paw and one in his mouth.
Peggy reached a little further, and there was a low growl and then a hiss. Peggy withdrew her arm with a long set of scratch marks on the top of her hand. She was crying by the time Grandma got to the kitchen.
“I have told you, kids, time and again, to leave that old cat alone,” Grandma said. That was probably the first time I had heard her speak in a stern voice. “Now, let’s get in the bathroom, wash this up, and put some Merthiolate on it.”
“That stings,” Peggy said through tears from the scratch and now the fear of the treatment.
“It helps if you blow on it after putting it on,” Grandma said.
A year or two later, during silo filling time, we little kids were stuck in the house with Grandma and the other women preparing lunch for the crew. It was more like a Thanksgiving dinner.
Uncle Rodney pulled up to the back gate in his tractor with a sickle mower attached. He came through the gate and up the steps to the back porch. Grandma and a couple of the other ladies were waiting for him on the back porch.
“Mom, I just wanted to tell you that Jerd was out in the grass hunting mice, and the mower got him,” Uncle Rodney said. “It cut off all his legs, so we knocked him in the head to put him out of his misery. I think he must have been deaf. Otherwise, he would have heard the tractor coming.”
“That was the only thing you could do,” Grandma said. “What have you done with him?”
“Duke is burying him over under that big myrtle tree on the creek bank,” Uncle Rodney said.
“That’s a good place for him,” Grandma said. “I’ll miss the old guy, but the grandkids will probably be safer with him gone.”
Many years later, my mind drifted back to that day on Grandma’s back porch. I was waiting at the clinic for a client to bring in a cat that had been injured by a sickle mower in the fading light of the summer evening.
As I thought about Jerd and his behavior, he probably was deaf. That was why he was so antisocial with people and why he never hung around the barn with the other cats. White cats do have a genetic degeneration of the organ of Corti in the middle ear. So it is very possible that he was deaf.
And the sickle mower took all of his legs. I am wondering just what this lady will be expecting for the treatment of her cat tonight. And how many legs will it be missing?
“Good evening, Doctor Larsen,” Sally said as she came through the door with her cat peeking out of a bundle of towels. “Thank you so much for coming in this evening to look at my Oliver.”
I took Sally and Oliver into an exam room and placed the bundle of towels on the table.
“Tell me again, what happened to Oliver,” I said.
“Jim was trying to get the last of the field mowed this evening,” Sally said. “Oliver must have been out there, hunting in the tall grass. Anyway, Oliver got caught in the sickle blades, and he is a real mess. When Jim called out to me to bring a towel, I was afraid he had been hurt. I saw Oliver trying to walk as soon as I got to the tractor. I just scooped him up and headed back to the house. That’s when I called you.”
I carefully peeled the towels away so I could get a good look at Oliver. Oliver seemed resigned to his fate but didn’t display any obvious discomfort. What a mess, both of Oliver’s hind feet were severed just below the hock joints. His right front leg was severed at the middle of his forearm. There was only a minor laceration on his left front leg.
“Sally, there is not much I can do for Oliver,” I said. “Maybe we should be thinking of what would be in his best interest.”
“Can’t you just sew up his wounds?” Sally asked.
“Yes, I can sew up these wounds, but I am not sure how well Oliver will be able to motivate,” I said. “Are you sure you want to deal with him in that situation?”
“I just can’t give up on him over an accident that was not his fault,” Sally said.
“I am pretty certain that his stumps won’t hold up to any outside activity, and I am not sure how well he will handle the litter box in the house,” I said. “I don’t have a problem with repairing his wounds, as long as he will be in a situation that is livable for him. We could always rethink our decision later if you have difficulty dealing with Oliver at home.”
“Can you do this tonight?” Sally asked.
“Yes, after I get him under anesthesia, I will clean up these wounds and close things up,” I said. “I might have to shorten his stumps a bit just to be able to make more functional stumps.
“Will I be able to pick him up in the morning?” Sally asked.
“Probably, but call first,” I said. “I will need to check him over and make sure his pain is under control before sending him home.”
I gave Oliver a hefty dose of ketamine to start anesthesia and provide some pain control.
In the surgery room, I prepped the wounds and trimmed the stumps on both hind legs, removing all the remnants of the metatarsal bones. This allowed me the ability to form a smooth, well-padded stump on each hind leg that could maybe serve Oliver pretty well.
I smoothed the bones on the right front leg and closed that stump. It would not be as functional as his hind leg stumps, but it would heal well.
I infused a little lidocaine into each repair to help with pain on recovery, but with the ketamine onboard, he should be okay until morning. I settled him into a well-padded kennel.
“We will see you in the morning, Oliver,” I said as I closed the kennel door. “We will see what morning gives us.”
In the morning, Oliver was up and looking for breakfast. He seemed to be doing well in the kennel. Hopefully, he will do okay at home.
Sally was in the early afternoon, and Oliver was happy to see her. We sent him home with instructions to stay indoors and keep incisions clean and dry, and use a pelleted litter
I saw Oliver once more for suture removal, and Sally reported he was doing well at home. The incisions had healed well, and the stumps looked like they would be serviceable. He didn’t use his right front leg stump but moved around on his hind leg stumps and his good left front leg.
After that last visit, I never saw Sally or Oliver again. One can only hope that Oliver’s life was tolerable for him.
Photo be Sergio Souza on Pexels.