Thursday, June 14, 2007


Every year from March to July we see an upturn in the number of calls about stray and unwanted kittens. There is nothing cuter in this world than a stumbling, bumbling, curious 6-week-old kitten. That's one reason why we get so many calls and why it's so hard for us to turn stray kittens away. Nevertheless small animal practices can lead themselves to the philanthropic poorhouse if they provide free health care to every stray that comes along.

Sadly, caring for strays is a balance between economics and herd health. There several viral diseases in kittens that are either lifelong, fatal, or both. Most people are familiar with feline leukemia (FeLV) and FIV (feline AIDS). However, just as troublesome are other viruses like herpesvirus (FVR), calicivirus, FIP, and panleukopenia. There is a very accurate test for FeLV and FIV but the other viruses are diagnosed primarily based on clinical signs. All of these diseases can present similarly and carry prognoses from fair to grave. All of these diseases are contagious, making hospitalization and nursing care challenging for the hospital staff and the Good Samaritan who finds the kitten. Often, I'm faced with the choice for which kitten can be saved and which should be euthanized. For me, it's never an easy decision.

The Good Samaritan is almost always a cat lover who already owns several pet cats. Many of these well-intentioned folks either lack the resources to pay for a stray kitten's care or they don't feel ethically responsible beyond dropping the kitten off at a vet. An anonymous caller to my cell phone yesterday morning before office hours offers a typical example:

Me: Hello?

Caller: Is this the vet?

Me: Yes it is, how can I help you?

Caller: I'm not a client of yours, but I have this stray kitten who's come up on my porch...

Me: Yes.

Caller: She has an eye that's hurt really bad and it looks like it's gonna pop out of the socket...

Me: Ooh, o.k. If you'd like to bring it into the office this morning between 8 and 8:30 I'll be happy to take a look at it.

Caller: Well, I don't have any money. You see, I'm on disability and my check doesn't come in until the end of the month.

Me: I see. Well, it certainly sounds like this kitten needs to be seen. Like I said, please come on down between 8 and 8:30 and I'll see what I can do.

Caller: Where are y'all located?

You get the idea... Unfortunately this new client never showed up at the hospital. I hope the kitten ended up getting veterinary care somewhere. The caller did show admirable compassion for the kitten's poor health.

Now I should mention that my hospital's voicemail lists my personal cell phone number, but instructs callers with emergencies (like this obvious case) to call the local emergency clinic right away. The voicemail goes on to say that clients can call my cell phone for urgent matters, but I cannot render medical advice over the phone for animals I have not yet examined. Occasionally strangers call me directly to ask about their sick animals, and there's little I can do but politely listen then ask them to bring the pet into the hospital when we're open.

I'll leave you with the bible parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). In this story, Jesus tells of a man who is robbed, beaten, and left for dead on the side of the road. Several passers by do not stop to help. But a Samaritan sees the man and immediately decides to help him even though Samaritan and Jewish people did not get along. The Samaritan takes the injured man to a safe place and takes care of him. Then he pays the inn keeper to care for the injured man in his absence and offers to reimburse him for any additional expenses when he returns. After telling this parable, Jesus says to his disciples, "'Go and do likewise'."

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