Summer of 2011, I was housesitting for my grandmother as she went on vacation when a bunch of raccoons invaded the neighborhood and chased off the cat who had been born in my grandmother’s garage and had since given birth to her own litter of four. Never saw Mama again, poor thing. When it became clear that Mama Fancy hadn’t been back to feed them in over a day, and after one of them, my beloved Everest ventured out of the box and crawled under the gap in the garage door to find me, the little troublemaker, I took them in and rang up my vet for help. They were not quite four weeks old at this point, so they still needed some milk, albeit very soon I would have to start mixing it in with kitten food. I started out with a powdered mixture I got from the pet store, a brand I don’t remember, but I took the only cannister they had so when that was gone I had to go to Walmart and buy the only other brand available in my small town, canned Hartz.
Now let me just be clear that despite being abandoned, all but one of them–Charlie–were perfectly healthy and thriving. Even the runt of the litter–Love, a little smokey grey thing and the only girl and who instantly stole my heart–was healthy and happy and playful and thriving. Charlie, black and white and named for his bowler hat and mustache, didn’t cope very well. He was always suckling from the others legs, always crying out, and very sickly. But the vets called it a failure to thrive and assured me it wasn’t contagious, so all I could do was look after him, hope for the best and brace myself for the worst. The other two, big and strong, orange and defiant Sisko and the aforementioned Everest (all black except for the white bikini on his tumtum–he was a climber, hence his name), were absolutely my least concern, strong and healthy and gaining weight fast and playful.
So despite being born outdoors, their health wasn’t that big a concern for the vet. They were given preventatives medicines like dewormers and vaccines and the like as precautions, but they were doing fine, and even Charlie was stabilizing despite his continue need to suckle on everything and everyone. They even took to soft food and litterboxing amazingly quick. Then came the time my powdered KMR ran out and I had to switch to Hartz.
It took less than a week for their health to plummet. It took less than a week to find Love dead in the cat condo I had bought for them not two days before, where they had snuggled in for the night and scampered out for breakfast in the morning, but only three of them. It took less than ten hours after finding sweet Love’s body for Sisko–big, strong, heavy, defiant, Sisko–eyes to glaze over, for him to reject any food and water offered him, for his little orange body to rigid, for him to start gasping for breath and there was nothing I could do because every vet’s office within the next four counties was closed for the night. I stayed with him all night until he took his last shuddering breath, and in the morning I rose from no sleep to find Charlie by the waterbowl, ignoring it, his eyes glazed. Strange, how Charlie was the sickest to begin with but the last to die. By then the vet was open and I rushed him and Everest there, but there was nothing they could do for Charlie except let him go gently. They didn’t know what it was at the time, though years later when I discovered what Hartz did to cats they had since learned as well and they agreed with me.
As they examined Everest and I cried my eyes out for the umpteenth time in two days, they discovered that he had lost a full pound of weight, a lot for such a tiny kitten. I was terrified he was going to get sick too, but other than the loss of weight and a bit of throwing up, he managed to avoid whatever Hartz had done to his littermates. Of course, as soon as my grandmother came home I immediately adopted him and took him home with me. How could I not? Unfortunately, he didn’t get out completely unscathed. It became apparent before he was even six months old that he had a neurological condition, feline hyperesthesia. He has many fits–some vets think it’s linked to epilepsy–wherein he fails to recognize his own tail and attacks it violently until he screams and hurts himself. He has multiple fits every single day and there’s no way to stop them as vets don’t really know what causes it or how to treat it. I don’t know if it was caused directly from Hartz or from the resulting trauma of losing his littermates to them, but I’m pinning this on them, as well.
Here are two pictures Everest and my older cat, Nerys. One when he was a few months old, and one taken a few months ago. Nerys is quite annoyed that he ended up bigger than her.