Blackjack and Newt, From the Archives

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.

Photo by David Bartus from Pexels

Photo by Mustafa ezz from Pexels

Dig the Hole Deep 

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Mom stepped out of the kitchen as soon as I came through the door. There was no smile on her face, which could only mean that there was work to be done.

“I want you to change into work clothes,” Mom said. “I was up checking Lila and Robert’s today. They aren’t going to be home for another four days, and they have a dead cow out by their filbert orchard.”

“So, what am I supposed to do about that?” I asked.

“As soon as I can track down your brother, you guys can go bury the cow,” Mom said, sounding a little stern. “That’s what you can do about that.”

“Mom, it’s the middle of August,” I said. “That ground will be as hard as a rock.”

“Yes, it’s the middle of August, and if we don’t get that cow buried, it will be a real mess by the time your Aunt and Uncle get home,” Mom said. “Besides, if you are going to play football this fall, you need to start getting into shape.”

About then, Mom heard the front door opening.

“Maybe that’s Gary now,” Mom said as she stepped out of the kitchen. “Oh, Frank, I thought you might be Gary. Do you know where he went this morning?”

“He’s salmoned on that new girl,” Dad said. “I think he ran over there for something, who knows what. Why do you ask?”

“I went up to check Lila’s place this morning, and they have a dead cow out by their filbert orchard,” Mom said. “I am going send these boys up to bury it.”

“Are you tough enough to dig that kind of a hole?” Dad said, looking at me.

“The two of them should be able to do it without any problem,” Mom said. “I think I will call Spires and see if Gary is over there.”

Gary pulled into the driveway before Mom could get to the phone, and mom started in as soon as he came through the door.

“You need to change clothes and get ready,” Mom said. “I am sending you and David up to bury a dead cow at Lila and Robert’s.”

“Mom, it’s the middle of August,” Gary said.

“Yes, and that cow won’t smell any better tomorrow,” Mom said. “Now get going.”

“I have a date tonight,” Gary said.

“Then you better get on your horse,” Dad said. “You can take the truck so you won’t have to get dirt in your car. You stop at the barn and pick up a rope.”

“Why do we need a rope?” I asked.

“You need to dig this hole ten feet deep,” Dad said. “How do you think you are going to get out of that hole?”

“Maybe we should take a ladder,” Gary said. “If we take the truck, we could just throw it on the bed.”

“Yes, and lose it on the first corner,” Dad said. “If you take the ladder, you make sure to tie it down. That might be better to have a ladder in the hole, anyway. That would give you a chance to survive if the bank caved in on you. And you make sure you have gloves.”

It didn’t take long, and we were changed and ready to go. Dad came out just as Gary finished getting the ladder tied down.

“This cow is probably going to be all bloated up,” Dad said. “Mom has been up there for several days, so it could be dead for that long. You dig this hole on the back side of the cow so you can just roll her over with her legs and drop her into the hole. That hole needs to be at least four feet wide and however long it needs to be to fit the cow. When you are deep enough where you can’t see out, you only want to have one of you in the hole at a time and keep the ladder in the hole.”

“Okay, we are on our way,” Gary said. “How long do you figure this will take us?”

“A couple of tough guys like you two, you should be done in an hour or two,” Dad said. “You should pull over and put some gas in that truck before you go. I’m not sure I trust that gas gauge anymore.”

“I thought that gas was just for the farm, not the highway,” Gary said. 

“The state isn’t going miss a few cents for tax money,” Dad said. “And how would they know, anyway.”

Just as we started to leave, Mom came out with a jug of water.

“It’s going to be hot this afternoon,” Mom said. “You might need this before you are done.”

Gary took the jug and handed it to me, and we were off. The trip up the river to Lila’s place was not long, but the old farm truck didn’t go fast, and it was a hot and bumping drive.

I got out, opened the gate, and pulled out to where the cow was lying. She was all puffed up, and her legs stuck out straight. Flies buzzed around her in swarms. When we got out of the truck, the odor struck us.

“This is going to be nice,” Gary said. “Let’s get to work so we can get the old girl in the ground.”

“I wonder what she died from?” I asked. “I mean, cows don’t just drop dead like this.”

The question was answered quickly when we noticed a bullet hole between her eyes.

“Night hunters,” Gary said, looking at the hole. “That was a pretty good shot if they made it from the highway. Damn idiots, people should know that there are cows in these fields.”

We got started digging right away. We marked off the margins of the hole with small shovel scoops. It was about eight feet long, four feet wide, and only a couple of feet from the cow’s back. It would be easy to pull her up on her back with her outstretched feet, and then with a slight push, she would tumble into the hole.

The ground was dry and hard at the beginning, and I thought this was going to take forever to dig a deep hole. But after the first couple of feet, the ground was softer, and the digging went faster. I had to work hard to keep up with Gary. His side of the hole seemed to be just a bit deeper than mine.

It wasn’t long, and we were down about four feet on my side.

“We better get the ladder in the hole,” Gary said. “And then we can take turns digging.”

“I can still see out pretty good,” I said.

“That’s because you haven’t been digging fast enough,” Gary said.

“No, you’re just short,” I said.

Getting out of a hole four feet deep is a bit of a challenge, but I could jump up, push with my hands and throw a leg out on the grass. Almost falling back into the hole, I quickly grabbed a handhold on the grass and pulled myself out.

I retrieved the ladder and placed it in the hole for Gary.

“Let’s take a break and get a drink of water,” Gary said. “It’s getting hot, and I’m almost sick from smelling that cow.”

We took the jug of water and sat in the shade of the filbert trees. The odor from the cow was much less there, and shade felt good in the growing heat of the afternoon.

“I was talking with Roger Gary the other day,” Gary said. “They have been doing pretty good pigeon hunting. Both up at the blue clay slide above Bridge and up Four Bit Gulch.”

“Don Miller and I are going to try up at his uncle’s place on Catching Creek,” I said. “Where did they come up with a name like Four Bit Gulch?”

“They say that is what the whore house used to charge back in the day,” Gary said. 

“When was that?” I asked. 

“I don’t know, probably before the war, maybe later,” Gary said. “Let’s get back to work. With this softer dirt, we should be able to finish this hole in no time.”

I climbed down the ladder first. Gary pulled the ladder out, and I started digging. I knew Gary was in a hurry, so I dug fast. The air seemed better as the hole got deeper, and the odor was not nearly as strong.

“Okay, let’s change places,” Gary said. “You are slowing down a bit. If we keep changing off, we can be deep enough in another fifteen or twenty minutes.”

Watching how fast things went, we probably should have taken turns from the beginning. In no time at all, we were at ten feet. We pulled the ladder out of the hole and stood looking, first at the dead cow and then at each other.

“Which end do you want?” Gary asked.

“I’ll take the front legs,” I said.

We swung our arms to scatter the flies, and each grabbed a leg. with a hard pull, we rolled the cow up onto her back. Then glancing at Gary, I nodded and gave the legs one final push. 

The cow tumbled into the hole. There was a load splat when she hit the bottom of the hole, and there was a gush of gas as her belly broke open. Fluid spilled from her belly and from both ends. The odor was overwhelming.

Gary turned away and gagged.

“Let’s get her covered up,” I said as I grabbed the shovel and started shoveling dirt back into the hole.

In no time, we had the hole filled in and a large mound of dirt on top. The air was clear, and the flies were gone. We loaded the ladder onto the truck and headed home.

“The good thing is we got done soon enough for me to get cleaned for tonight,” Gary said.

Mom was waiting out front when we got home.

“Could you tell why she died?” Mom asked.

“Lead poisoning,” Gary said, pointing to his forehead with a finger.

“Night hunters,” Mom said. “I hope they realize how much that cost Robert.”

“It probably wouldn’t have happened if Uncle Robert still had his hounds,” I said.

“They wouldn’t have been gone if he still had his hounds,” Mom said.

“Dave, you put things away and clean up the truck,” Gary said. “I’ve got to get cleaned up. I can still smell that cow on me.”

Photo by Alexey Demidov from Pexels.

A Puppy from Alabama 

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Rosalie was waiting in the exam room with her Boston terrier, Daisy. Dixie had just finished getting them ready for me and was waiting at the treatment room door to speak with me before I went into the exam room.

“Rosalie is in the exam room,” Dixie said. “She is a new client, but she is unhappy about something. I thought I would just give you a heads-up.”

When I entered the room, Rosalie stood at the exam table, holding Daisy in her arms. The expression on her face approached a frown. Rosalie was a large woman, and she was not obese, but she towered over me. She was well over six feet tall.

“Hi, I’m Doctor Larsen,” I said. “What can we do for Daisy today?”

Rosalie sat Daisy on the exam table. “Daisy has had constant diarrhea for the last two weeks, and we can’t get it under control,” Rosalie said in a stern voice. “We have gone to Dr. Clark for years and loved the dear man. But he up and died on us.”

“Yes, I never had the opportunity to meet Dr. Clark, but he enjoyed a fine reputation in the profession,” I said. “I’m sure his sudden death shocked many of his clients.”

“We never dreamed we would have to look for a new veterinarian,” Rosalie said. “But we are unhappy with the new young man who took over for Dr. Clark.”

“There are a lot of factors that go into a client’s selection of a veterinarian,” I said. “But, all the studies say that the number one factor is location. Driving to Corvallis with a stinky dog in the car is not the most pleasant experience.”

 “We live in Brownsville,” Rosalie said. “So we are used to driving for many things we do.”

“I will look Daisy over, and you can tell me all the things that the new veterinarian in Dr. Clark’s office has done for her,” I said as I turned my attention to Daisy. The now squirming little Boston on the exam table.

“That won’t take long,” Rosalie said. “As near as we can tell, he hasn’t done a thing for her. We have had her over there three times in the last week, and nothing has helped.”

“How long have you had Daisy?” I asked.

“My sister got her for us,” Rosalie said. “She picked her up about four weeks ago, just before she came to visit.”

“So Daisy is not from around here?” I asked.

“No, my sister lives in Alabama,” Rosalie said.

“So, has Daisy been wormed?” I asked.

“Wormed, I don’t think so,” Rosalie said. “No, wait a moment. My sister said the breeder had wormed her before she picked her up.”

“But, in Corvallis, did they worm her or at least check her stool?” I asked.

“No, he said he was going to submit a sample for culture if things didn’t improve,” Rosalie said.

“We have a puppy from Alabama, and parasites should be number one on the list,” I said.

“Doctor Larsen, I don’t think he knew that Daisy was from Alabama,” Rosalie said. “He just did a quick exam and sent us on our way each visit. There was no conversation or discussion involved.”

“Well, I know Daisy is from Alabama,” I said. “And I also know that dogs who grow up in the Southeast have real parasite problems. I’m going to just collect a drop of stool material off the thermometer and get it under the microscope before we go any further.”

I reinserted the thermometer into Daisy’s rectum, and it came out with a drop of brown liquid suspended from its tip. I carefully transferred that drop to a microscope slide.

“This is only going to take me a second to look at this,” I said as I started out the exam room door.

At the lab counter, I added another drop of floatation fluid to the slide. I mixed the sample with a wooden applicator stick. Then I put the slide on the microscope stage and adjusted the scope.

To a veterinarian who had been educated in Colorado and practicing in Oregon, this was a remarkable slide. We were accustomed to taking a stool sample the size of a peanut and putting it through a process that would concentrate and collect the eggs onto a microscope slide. If we saw a dozen eggs in a field of view, we would consider that patient heavily parasitized. I was looking at a mere drop of stool from Daisy, and the entire field of view on the microscope was covered with worm eggs, latterly, hundreds of eggs in one view. Most of the eggs were roundworm eggs, but some hookworm eggs and whipworm eggs were evident.

“Dixie, you want to make sure you look at that microscope slide,” I said as I stood up. “We won’t see another sample like this one, probably ever.”

“Rosalie, I suspect that you will be amazed at the results of today’s treatment,” I said when I returned to the exam room. “Daisy is loaded with parasites. Mostly roundworms, but also hookworms and whipworms. I will give her some deworming medication. By this evening, you will see her pass an unbelievable number of worms in her stool. And the good thing is, this will probably take care of her diarrhea overnight.”

“Is that all you’re going to do?” Rosalie asked.

“For now, that is all we are going to do,” I said. “There will be a lot of follow-up for Daisy. We should see her next week just to recheck and repeat the deworming. The life cycles of these parasites are a little complex. The medications we have today will only remove the parasites in the gut. Many others are migrating in her body or are encysted in her tissues. We will need to treat her like an Alabama dog for the rest of her life. That is a bit of history that her veterinarians need to know.”

“Okay, we will see how things go,” Rosalie said.

“Now remember, Daisy is going to pass a wad of worms tonight,” I said. “There will be so many, it will be alarming to you, and it could cause her some momentary distress.”

***

The following week, Daisy was a different puppy when she came bounding through the door into the clinic. I stepped out to the reception room to greet her and Rosalie. Daisy was squirming all over the place, trying to contain her enthusiasm. She bounced around my feet and jumped up on my leg.

“She looks like she feels better,” I said.

“Oh, yes,” Rosalie said. “She was well the next day, just like you said. And were you ever correct about the worms she passed. But she is a different puppy, and we are so pleased.”

Dixie came out and scooped up Daisy to take her to the exam room. She had to turn her face away to keep from being licked.

“Do you think she knows we helped her?” Dixie asked.

“I doubt it. We are seldom given any credit from our patients,” I said. “I think she feels so much better that she has a lot of being a puppy to get caught up on now.”

“Today, we will repeat the deworming, and I will send you home with some deworming liquid to give her every two weeks for the next couple of months,” I said. “By then, we should be into a situation where we can manage her parasite problem with a treatment a couple of times a year.”

“Doctor, how can you make that diagnosis so quickly when the Corvallis vet couldn’t find it in three visits?” Rosalie asked.

“Having all the information makes the diagnosis easy,” I said. “Knowing that Daisy was a puppy from Alabama made the diagnosis before I even looked at the slide. But, for parasites not to be on the list of possible problems in any puppy with diarrhea is a serious mistake. But veterinarians are like anybody else. If your mind starts down the wrong path, sometimes it is difficult to change your thinking. It was just an oversight on his part.”

“We would like to change to this clinic,” Rosalie said. “What do we have to do to accomplish that change?”

“There is no process,” I said. “In our view, it is done. Having Dr. Clark’s office send us your records would be a plus, but if Daisy is your only pet now, that is very optional.”

“How should I deal with that new veterinarian in that office?” Rosalie asked. “We are certainly not happy with his services.”

“Talking with his office or sending a note to let him know the diagnosis would probably be appropriate,” I said. “But if you’re mad, it will probably roll off like water on a duck’s back. Be informative; we are all in this business to learn. Sometimes we learn from our mistakes or oversights. That’s why they call this a practice.”

***

Rosalie and Daisy were regular visitors to our clinic for many years. In those years, we suffered with Rosalie’s grief over the loss of her husband and then the unexpected loss of a daughter. Through all those hard times, Daisy remained a bright spot in Rosalie’s life, and her visits to the clinic were always punctuated by her bouncing joy. She was one of those rare patients who truly loved to come to the clinic.

Photo by Melissa Jansen Van Rensburg on Pexels.

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