Sunday, March 19, 2017

Kitten Season. The TURMOIL Of A Vet Who Doesn't Always Know What To Do.

This was the post I placed on my clinics Facebook Page this morning.

"Every Monday JVC provides TNR (trap neuter return) spays and neuters to our community cats. For the past three weeks every female has been pregnant. These cats are either without a home and/or feral. If not spayed the chances of the kittens being preyed upon or suffering from communicable disease is immense. It is not a life for a domestic animal. Please help us provide more assistance to the most needy in our community by spaying & neutering and supporting local charities that provide TNR services. Last year Jarrettsville Veterinary Center found homes for almost 100 unwanted pets. Let's try to cut that in half every year forward. Thanks to all who help."

The TNR cats arrive in a cat trap hiding, hissing, and afraid.
We sedate them through the cage and remove them when they are safe to handle and asleep.
This was one of the first replies I got back;

I am sure that must be difficult for you
UnlikeReplyMessage11 hr
Jarrettsville Vet Center We too often feel like we have no good options. These kittens die outside horrible deaths by disease or predators. These moms are feral. And the kittens become feral if not handled within the first few weeks. It is a vicious cycle only made better by allowing the moms to get spayed and be fed by the colony care givers. We don't even know they are pregnant because we have to sedate them inside the cage. If we don't spay them they will be euthanized when the colony numbers become too large. It is a side of society no one wants to see or admit too. All we can do is help those the volunteers trap and care for. Too many cats get no care, no feeding and no vaccines. Rabies is spread by these cats. Thank you for your kind thoughts.

A sleepy sedated cat is taken out for the exam and spay/neuter surgery
Here is what a typical TNR day looks like; The cats arrive they are in an individual metal trap. They were baited by food to go into it and as soon as they get far enough inside the trap door closes. Most of these cats are from a local colony that is managed by a team of volunteers who take turns providing food, shelter and over sight. They also know the colony. It is as good as we can get when a cat is dumped by a human. These cats were not born here from a wild cat. They are the byproduct of a society that domesticated them and then refused to take full responsibility for them. TNR is the only humane way to provide safety and compassion to a pet we forgot about.

waking up after surgery
Here's where I find myself swimming in an ocean of doubt, despair, and dismay; What do you do when there are too many cats in your area? Too many for homes? And too many to be ignored? After all I live in a very rural area of Maryland. Barns, horses, and farms are the halfway homes to cats who have no residence to call their own. For some the life of a 'barn cat' is a profession worthy of a warm meal, a safe bed, and veterinary care. For others, theses cats are tantamount to rodents. Unwanted scavengers who are not welcomed and not cared for.

For almost every community in our country a cat who is undeniably a domestic pet, they however have no rights, no status, and no obligatory list of provisions. Even though every cat is required to be vaccinated for rabies there is no oversight nor consequence when they aren't. If we took protecting ourselves from this zoonotic disease we should do a better job of protecting our domestic pets.

What do you do when every year, regardless of how hard you try to educate your neighbors about how prolific a cat can reproduce, more cats show up? The never ending revolving door of kittens so sick, so debilitated and so pitiful you are compelled to help, because you can, because you know that if you don't the prognosis goes from poor to grave, again, and again, and, again. There is exhaustion in taking them into the clinic, but, there is death, regret, and pain beyond compare when you don't. So, you do it,, again and again.

Most vet practices do not provide  TNR assistance. I am afraid that it isn't because there aren't any feral, homeless, or unspayed/neutered cats in the community, but rather because;
  1. They make more money on owned cats. Typically TNR cats receive only a rabies vaccine, their sterilization surgery and ear tip. At my practice a TNR spay is about $80, a neuter about $40. The average client with a kitten will spend upwards of $400 at my clinic. The vets time is more lucratively served on clients.
  2.  They don't want the hassle of feral cats. Big clunky cages strewn about the clinic, smelly cages (really BAD smelling cages), and the loss surgery time for others who can pay full price.
  3. There is never an end to these cats. The feral cat well never runs dry. I can say that for as much as the finances don't discourage me the never ending flood of unwanted cats feels like swimming in an ocean without a horizon.
  4. These cats are feral. They are afraid. I am sure there are some vets who would use this as a reason to avoid handling them. With practice and the right drug protocol I have never had a case or a cat I couldn't handle. 
  5. Disease. I cannot get around the argument that a feral cat isn't a possible source for disease transmission. I can however argue that this is the nature of our business. There is an equal likelihood in my neck of the woods that the "owned" house cat has been, or can be, exposed to the same disease. I cannot chose to not help them.
  6. The excuse that "there are places for these cats elsewhere" is a cheap excuse to turn your back on the members of our community we are supposed to be helping. An 'owned cat' should be treated as respectfully and professionally as an "unowned cat."
A very hungry orphan

These TNR cats are the off spring of cats who were;
  • allowed to go outside and got lost.
  • never spayed or neutered.
  • put outside because they were house soiling
  • put outside because they were not loved
  • dumped by someone who couldn't/wouldn't care for them
  • They are the consequence of a species we lack respect for.
Cats are magnificent creatures who are far more intelligent than we give them credit for.

Neutering one of our 2016 kittens

Here's the ethical dilemmas with TNR's. I don't know whether the cat I am sedating through a little wire square is healthy? Or if it is a male or a female? If she is a female I don't know if she is pregnant? If she is pregnant, how pregnant is she? What about if they are REALLY REALLY pregnant? Who wants to live with being an abortion vet? It certainly is NOT what I went to vet school for.. We use an injectable sedative that needs to be placed in the muscle. This sedative allows them to be handled. It also slows the heart rate, temperature, and blood flow. For unborn kittens this, and the general anesthesia needed to maintain adequate anesthesia, will often make trying to revive them impossible. Also, kittens who are removed from their mom before they are ready to be born have a low survival rate.

If the mom is feral (as all of these are) the kittens need to be hand raised. This requires feeding them every two hours. Making sure they stay warm, fed and cared for. It is a full time job that requires experience, fortitude and self preservation when they die at 2 am after a day (or days) of endless worry. To be dedicated and compassionate enough to provide this degree of intensive care and then have them die is.. well,, breaking. It can break you. If you aren't very careful, and somehow manage to volunteer for the next litter you learn to allocate yourself in more manageable amounts. I have tried on more than one occasion to save the late term kittens. I won't do it again. They die within hours or days, and they are so labor intensive it is heartbreaking on too many levels.

This is the uterus of a feral pregnant cat.
These babies are about a month old,, far too young to be viable
I know of many practitioners who are afraid to post to social media. They only allow chummy photos of happy kittens and puppies. I feel very strongly that honesty and transparency are paramount to building and maintaining integrity. I also feel very passionately and deeply about animals. I am a veterinarian so I do need to narrow that a bit to "pets". I am also trying, yes, still trying, to find that end of unwanted pets. To save enough lives along the way that it might actually make a difference.

Do I think about a backlash after I post a pregnant cat spay photo? Of course. I live in in the USA, abortion is under fire, and the collateral damage is possible.

If I wanted to live in the land of happy puppies and fluffy kittens I wouldn't be a vet. I would be a kindergarten teacher. I would blissfully obliviously portray the life I am paid to emulate. The real-life of a vet is unwanted pets. If you aren't happy about it do something. Join me for a TNR, adopt a shelter pet, or donate to one of the many rescues who take care of other humans neglect.

One of our JVC kittens is tested for FeLV/FIV 
You can spend your life tip-toeing around life and all of the sticky spots it provides you. I am too old and have too much left to do to waste anymore time living in life among the minefield.

The surgery table.
One cat is prepped for a spay, the other is being microchipped.
Being a veterinarian is part making people happy, part being true to a calling, and part trying to navigate through unchartered and unchapperoned shit storms. If it was easy we wouldn't be the lucky recipients of the "profession with the highest suicide rate." Do you think that we don't get asked to provide the ugly side of pets being property, disposable, and replacable daily? We do. It is why we are so sheltered, Why many of us are not your personal friends. Why our clients don't have our personal information and why we become the stoic, reserved, distant women of the profession.

The local Humane Society,, where they have more than enough cats to go around already
What do you do with the reality that most cats in my rural area are never going to be treated as a 'companion'? How do I turn away a basket of sick, dying kittens that some well intentioned kid found? If you think I can send them to the shelter, I need to inform you that in many places the shelter doesn't accept cats. In others I am sending the kittens to an overcrowded understaffed s-h-e-l-t-e-r. Where disease is more prevalent, more widespread, and the kittens are not likely to get the intensive care they need. I do not send kittens or sick, injured pets to the shelter. I do not shirk a responsibility I know I can manage better than they can.

Is leaving kittens outside to fend for themselves safe? NO! Absolutely not. They are little tiny meowing morsels. They cannot escape, defend themselves or feed themselves. So I am left having to decide what I can do to help these cats whom I feel equally devoted to. They have survived within the life we cast them away too. The babies we are asked to help get care beyond what the shelters can do. It has been a labor of building a network of people who know we will provide everything they need regardless of the bill and the owner being unknown and unwilling to step up. If you believe you can make a difference you must try. 

The kittens I found in a tire on the side of a deserted road.
They had been dumped there,,
If you are a vet you can have a hard time not hating people
The vet practice I am responsible for is doing whatever we can wherever we can, even if it isn't without sacrifice and hard decisions.

If I turn my back on them, and dismiss them as "someone else's problem, BOTH my conscious and my community cats pay.

If I turn my back on the reality of posting what is really happening in our back yards, I am as complicit as the pet parent who gave up on their cat. The vet down the street who is only worthy of paying customers, and society who refuses to embraces cats with the same degree of genuine love that the dog has earned.

If I turn my back on who I went to vet school to become I have no legacy to leave behind that I am proud of.

Two of the TNR cats we adopted out in 2016 proudly display their ear tips.
Does every pregnant cat break my heart, YES! Almost as much as every sick, debilitated, broken spirited, beaten up, hungry, scared cat does.. There is no end to the ethical dilemmas I face every day, I'm just not going to bury or ignore them.

Here is more about our dedication to cats;
TNR's are not charged an examination. For clients interested in our feline services here are our prices;
Rabies vaccine is $16, spay is $100, neuter $60. FeLV/FIV $45 Microchips are $25

Our routine kitten vaccination protocol;
  • We usually see kittens at 8-12 weeks. First visit includes FVRCP + Leuk vaccine, part 1 of 2 done 3 weeks apart. Fecal exam for intestinal parasites, $30, deworming about $15, microchip $25, Feline leukemia & FIV test $45, first dose of flea preventative $10. Cost of first cat visit is about $175.
  • Last kitten visit at 16 weeks, finish FVRCP + Leuk vaccine, 1 yr rabies vaccine, pre-op spay/neuter bloodwork ($50), about $150.
  • Feline Neuter $60
  • Feline Spay $100
Here is our complete Price Guide for 2017

If you would like to follow our Facebook page you can learn more about us. If you have a pet question you can ask it for free at You can also find interesting pet facts, cases and stories at my YouTube channel and @FreePetAdvice.


  1. Termination of a feral cat's pregnancy is a preemptive act of rescue.

    1. Thank you for reading and adding your voice! I am unwilling to listen to opinions otherwise... if they feel so compelled to be damning the work of others they better have a colony (or twenty) in their own backyard! xoxo

  2. Thank you so much for providing TNR resources in your community! You are a cat hero! I support TNR here in DC and have trapped and rehomed ferals, maintained a colony, done barncat relocation....lots of time and love and effort and energy per cat. So very grateful that we have a robust TNR program here supported by the DC Health Department as well, not all communities have a program or even someone like you! Sadly the #1 problem is humans, and no matter how you try, it is raining cats and kittens because humans do not take the responsibility to fix their pets, and dump unwanted pets.
    I have advised neighbors and friends on kitty abortions as part of TNR, it is a sad fact of life. I would rather give the momma cat a chance at a home or a decent life in a good colony, especially if she is young and could have complications at birth, than have her AND a passle of kittens to find homes for. Reality does suck.
    Thank you, thank you for all that you are doing for these community cats!!!!

    1. Hello!
      I agree with you 100%! People are the problem,, we are ALWAYS the problem,, :-(
      Thank you for doing all that you are to help them.. we are with you in both spirit and action,, one feline at a time. I wish every person could see the beauty and magnificence in these cats. They are amazing creatures who deserve love and respect. People are too self centered and have become apathetic to the plight of those simply struggling to survive.
      My best to you all!