Matilda is an eight-pound gray tabby cat, 3 years old, small with an elfin face. She was rescued by the SPCA Serving Erie County from a hoarding situation and entered the shelter on March 15. Unfortunately, the medical conditions she presented are typical of the neglect cats suffer in hoarding environments. Usually hoarders are so overwhelmed by the number of animals in their possession that they are unable to care for them adequately, and in some cases, they literally can’t see that there is anything wrong with the ones that are obviously ill.
What follows is an edited version of Matilda’s medical history. March 16: Ears have been cleaned and treated for ear mites; missing incisors; tapeworms seen; conjunctivitis; green ocular discharge. For the next 10 days, treatments are prescribed. On March 26, her eyes are clear enough to reveal corneal scarring. On March 30, she is diagnosed with dry eye, which will require the administration of eye drops three times a day for the rest of her life. Described as “shy,” on April 23 she is declared healthy and cleared for adoption.
Throughout her medical treatment, SPCA AdvoCATS, the cat enrichment volunteers, of whom I am one, were working with her, trying to keep her physically and mentally healthy. SPCA AdvoCATS write evaluations after each encounter. Reviewing these one day, I noticed that there had been no improvement in her shyness in a month. She was a tight little ball of withdrawal. I became alarmed and offered to foster her. Veterinary services called me shortly after my proposal because Matilda had begun refusing food. I took her home on April 28.
The change of location brought results. She explored. She played with toys and scratched and climbed the scratch pole. She was affectionate, sweet and “chatty,” using chirps and trills to “talk” to me and to her toys. She liked sleeping on a window sill in the sun and watching the deer, rabbits and birds. Everything seemed new and interesting to her.
The one problem was eye drops. She thought that every time I approached she would be getting the dreaded drops. I devised a signal of visual, auditory and tactile cues to indicate “love and affection only.” I wanted her to depend on this signal and that I would never betray the trust I was building to “bribe” her for the application of eye drops. For this I approached her matter-of-factly, comforted her afterward and provided treats of tuna or deli-sliced roast beef as a “reward” for enduring the eye drops. She became a happy, healthy cat.
I returned Matilda to the shelter the first week in June. SPCA AdvoCATS and other volunteers continued to give her lots of attention, and she grew less shy. We were all worried about finding adopters willing to take on the demands of her care. I wasn’t at the shelter when a young, engaged couple adopted her on Aug. 9. SPCA AdvoCATS who were present liked the match. I would miss her, but I was happy she had found a home.
Although many creatures taken in at the SPCA Serving Erie County don’t require the amount of attention Matilda needed, many others do, and the care given this cat illustrates beautifully the shelter’s unreserved commitment to the well-being of the animals that enter its doors.
Have a good life, Matilda. You deserve it.