Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Crew - Eli

Eli.. now Eli's story is quite long.  He started out life as "Melvin" which was my father in law's name.  It seemed to fit his quirky personality.  He wasn't a stand out kitten, just your standard average every day kitten.  I know that sounds horrible to say, but after fostering hundreds of kittens, the start to blend especially since personalities aren't formed when they are so young.  They all tend to do the same things, get into the same kinds of trouble, etc.

What was different about Eli was his health.  He was the sickest little kitten I ever had that lived. For weeks he suffered from one URI after another, and I had to constantly pick the snot off his nose to help keep it clear or clean the gunk that came from his eyes.  While he liked getting loved on, he was not a fan of being medicated or picked at.  Over time the fear of being picked at outweighed the reward of being patted, and he started running from me if I went towards him.

Eli had a very bad spell over Thanksgiving weekend 2002 while I was still fostering him.  We had family at the house, and even though he was isolated in the basement, the stress still got to him and we found him very sick.  I brought him to the vet the next day and he ended up spending the rest of the holiday weekend getting fluids and medication to reduce his fever.  He came home and recovered slowly, but one of his tear ducts became scared and blocked.  This causes the tears to spill onto his face instead of recycling back into his system.

When we decided to adopt we decided to keep Eli because of his blocked tear duct and his fearful nature.  I wasn't sure it was going to be fair to new owners to pass on a kitty that needed hands on care that was fearful of hands.  I tried so very hard to break him of the fear, but offering treats and going towards him with out intent of doing anything to him, but he didn't care he just ran.  It got to the point that he ran when we walked into a room.

All of this stress caused him another round of URI, and as a result his other tear duct blocked.  Now as you can imagine this was the last thing he needed.  He spent the first years of his life with his face and ears covered with black debris which is what happens to cat tears when they dry.  Why the ear canal was so covered, I am not 100% sure of the mechanics, but I do know they are all connected.  It would become so crusted that I was fearful that it would block it up completely and do damage so I felt the need to clean them often.  Which of course just added to his fear.

So not being able to spend a lot of time one on one with him, it took forever to find a name for him.  Melvin was a little awkward for several reasons, and just isn't that good of a name for a cat. (well to me anyway - my apologies to any Melvin cats out there)  one day I was driving down the road and saw El's Clam Shack, and for some reason my mind read it as Eli, and a light bulb moment occurred.

I ended up working for a vet, and as a result I was able to get Eli in for surgery to try to unblock his tear ducts.  Unfortunately the scaring was too extensive, and they were unable to help him out.  The clinic had several vets, including a holistic vet who suggested that maybe laser light therapy would help him out.  Once a week for several months I rounded him up and brought him in with me for her to work on.  We saw a dramatic improvement.  His ears were no longer caking with excessove debris, and while his face still had problems, it took longer and longer before it got to the point where I felt the need to step in.  Unfortunately though Eli's need to not be caught and worked on was stressing him out, and catching him became more and more of a chore.  When the improvement started to taper off, I decided to stop bringing him in.  It was suggested I could work on him at home but he would not sit still for me for even a moment and I was fearful of that light so near his eyes.  Over time his eyes started showing more spillage, but by that point Eli had started to understand me a little.  I suggested to him several times before cleaning his face that if he got another cat to clean his face for him I wouldn't need to.  Well finally he caught on to what I was saying, and now all I need to do is tell him to clean his face, and by the next day most of the black gunk is gone (you can see just one speck on his face in the above photo - which is incredible.  Generally it is all down the side of his nose)

At one point I got so sad that Eli didn't have a relationship with us, that I started looking into more alternative therapies for him.  I ended up using Feliway, but that really didn't help.  He wasn't fearful in his environment, but with us.  I got a bottle of Rescue Remedy and started dosing him with that.  I put a few drops in his food and slowly over time he was able to over come that initial fear reaction that caused him to run.  I knew that a few months after we stopped medicating him he had no idea why he was running but it was left over that when he saw us coming at him that he needed to run.  The first time I was able to walk through a room he was in and he didn't run (although he did watch me carefully) I almost threw a party.  We broke that instinctual reaction, and it was just going to take time for him to work through the rest of it.  One thing that helped was Eli's LOVE of static.  He is the only cat I've ever known that WANTS to be patted in the winter time.  The more static you can generate the better.  For a couple of years we had a winter only kitty because once we couldn't generate static for him any more he didn't have much use for us.  But in the past year or so he has started to realize that the people are good for more then generating static, and now he comes up and throws himself down near us and asks (ask? yea, demand is a better word) that we pat his belly.  Just the other week he actually climbed up on my lap for some attention - ok so it was just two paws on my leg, but to me it was huge.

One set back in his journey to be a comfortable in the home was a pretty bad bout with urinary crystals.  He ended up blocking.  At that time I had Em who was diabetic and not eating the dry food we were feeding very well so she was being fed a low carb canned food upstairs while the rest of the crew ate Felidae downstairs.    When Eli blocked we ended up feeding him upstairs in a different room the "prescription" food the vet recommended.  I did more reading on crystals, and found out that he would probably do just fine on a canned diet like that Em was getting.  The reduced plant matter would keep the urine from being so alkaline which is when crystals can form.  So Em and Eli ate upstairs while everyone else ate downstairs.  Then Jack blocked and had to be on an even stronger form of "prescription" food because his crystals were excessive.  So Em ate in one room, Jack and Eli ate somewhere else, and the rest of them ate downstairs.  It was downright silly trying to heard the cats to the right areas of the house.  This is when I did even more reading on feline nutrition and came to the conclusion that even the carb content of regular canned food was too much for Jack, and that if I put him on a raw diet he should do ok.  And that a raw diet would be ideal for Em who was dealing with diabetes and extra carbs have been shown to increase the blood sugar levels of diabetics.  And for the kicker that a raw diet was actually ideal for just about every cat.  So I started making my own cat food.  It was not fun, and I HATE raw meat, but it is doable.   With the addition of more cats to the household, grinding up meat for more then six cats got to be overwhelming so we are buying premade raw food for cats, but I wish I had the stomach to continue to make it for them.  That way I could control how much plant matter ended up in their diets.

Eli has many quirks, one of which is that he does not meow.  For a long time I didn't think he could, but he proved me wrong during one trip to the vets where he let out a magnificent caterwaul  Eli squeaks.  Lets out little squeaking noises that aren't quite bird chips but are close.  What's more adorable is he will squeak at you if you call him by his nickname of "Squeaky"..  

Eli is also very much into catnip.  Some cats are sensitive to it, some not, but Eli loves it.

He is slowly becoming our cat as opposed to a cat in the house.  It has been a very long process, but we don't mind one bit.  Sometimes I have to wonder if he wouldn't have done better in another household because it would have been a break from us and a change in general that might have helped him overcome his fear of humans (humans or was it just me, and then my husband because after I stopped being able to catch him on my own I would send him after Eli)   I guess I will never know, but I can only hope I made the right decision.

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