Blog author: 
Dave Harper

At Thundering Paws animal sanctuary, the opportunity to help improve the lives of our animals in big ways presents itself each and every day. You don't have to look for the opportunities; they almost come flying at you. Many sanctuary animals have been lost, abandoned, or given up for various reasons (sometimes not very good reasons). These animals often come to us hurt, or sick. This is where China the feral kitty comes in.

China Jan 1st
China on January 1st, 2007

China lived in a feral cat colony for the first six months or so of her life, and was trapped as part of the trap-neuter (or spay)-return program that has been so effective in helping to limit the explosion of newborn cats in the region. Anne Zabolio, Director of Thundering Paws, realized from previous observation that China seemed sickly and extremely thin, and the vet who spayed China confirmed that she was indeed unhealthy. She was diagnosed with lyphocytic plasmacytic stomatitis, a terrible disease that causes extremely painful inflammation in the mouths of affected cats. It is so painful for these kitties to eat that they can starve to death if not treated. Anne could not bear to place this ill kitty back in the wild, where she would not survive long, and where her last days would be full of suffering. So China took up residence at Thundering Paws, where she seemed to improve over time with medication but not to the extent we had hoped.

Recently, Anne and the Thundering Paws volunteers noticed that China was eating less than she should, and was looking poorer in spite of the medication she had been on for quite some time. We concluded that drastic measures were needed to keep China going. We have all loved this kitty from the first day she came to Thundering Paws, even though she has never been able to show affection toward us, due to her feral nature. I've always had a particular affection for feral kitties, and China won my heart the first day she arrived back in the spring.

I volunteered to take China to my vet (who seems to work miracles sometimes) to see if she could help. I also committed to letting China stay at my house for as long as she needs to during her recovery. The treatment for this condition often means having teeth removed, with a lot of followup medication.

On January 1st, 2007, China spent her first full day at my house. She settled into a comfy cage in a private room with her own cat bed, water, food, a toy mousie, and a litter box. She looked so thin and her fur was thin as well, but she still had the energy to give her usual hisses if she thought I was going to touch her. China has never been ferocious (unlike feral Roxie "the cobra"), but neither has she ever been what you might call friendly. I attempted to pet her the night she arrived at my house and she did tolerate it (sort of), although with a look on her face indicating "I'll let you do this just once!"

In spite of the painful condition in her mouth, she ate some canned food as well as some dry food. This was quite an improvement, to which I attributed the quietness of her private room away from a lot of people and other animals. Although most Thundering Paws kitties love having the other kitties and people around them, China never really did. The next day, China was eating even better, and seemed more tolerant of being petted. I found a very soft brush (the kind you can't seem to find in the stores any more), and while she was being brushed, I thought I heard a little bit of soft purring. I know I did. Yet shortly thereafter, China was hissing up a storm and cringing at the idea of being touched. I've seen the same thing with other feral kitties who really don't want to be feral. They can't seem to make up their minds sometimes.

Over the next few days, China's personality began changing dramatically. Each day, she allowed more petting and brushing, although she didn't purr again for a while. But several times, she rolled on her side and got a tummy rub! Each time I thought "this can't be happening." But it was. China also continued eating better and better, and she seemed to be looking not quite as thin. Her energy level increased so that she was not sleeping as much, and she began making eye contact with me. To top it off, she started giving me "love eyes." Every cat lover on the planet knows what that look is--when a kitty looks you in the eye, then slowly closes her eyes and, just as slowly, opens them again.

On Tuesday, January 2, China went to my vet, who concluded that she would need to be anesthetized so that they could do a thorough exam. My vet also indicated that China might need to have her teeth extracted; otherwise, she would probably not recover from the stomatitis. An appointment was scheduled for later in the week.

January 5th was China's big surgery. They did remove her teeth, except for her front four teeth. My vet told me that her mouth was in terrible condition--very inflamed and infected. She couldn't understand how China could have been eating anything at all.

The next day, China was doing fine. One would never know that one day earlier she had major surgery. She was eating even better, not only canned food, but also dry kibbles. She just swallowed her food without chewing. Another big milestone for China was that I opened the door to her cage, left it open for good, and started feeding her on the floor of her private room. Without hesitation, she began jumping down out of the cage to enjoy her "savory salmon." It didn't bother her for me to be in the room when she was out of the cage, either! Previously, she would only let me pet her if she was in the cage, but that changed quickly.

Later that same day it was clear that China had her best day ever. She was eating anything I put in front of her, rolling over for her tummy rubs, and, get this... she started purring very loudly when being petted. If humans could purr, well, you can imagine how I felt. I've told my friends at Thundering Paws that these are the kinds of things that make being born a great thing.

By January 8th I could really see China's weight gain. She even had a little belly on her. Her fur looked much better too, and I saw her grooming herself for the first time when I came in from the office in the evening. She hardly resembled the kitty from only a week ago!

But along with this great progress has come some bad news. My vet called me with a report on China. She said that China's blood test results came back indicating an "overwhelming" infection in her body, likely from the stomatitis. The blood sample was taken right before her surgery. The question in my mind is "why was China eating so well, even before she had her teeth extracted?" Fortunately, when China had the surgery last week, she received a powerful antibiotic, and has been on a daily round of antibiotic (Zithromax, to be specific). So I'm still optimistic that she will make a full comeback. For a fleeting moment at the vet's office I wasn't so sure, though. When I thanked the head vet for "saving another Thundering Paws kitty," he said "well, I don't know if we can, but we're trying." I think he may have been surprised that she had eaten well and had gained weight, considering the extent of the effects of the stomatitis.

By January 10th or so, China started raising her tail slightly for the first time to greet me. That's always a good sign, and a pretty amazing one for a feral cat! I found out, though, that she isn't ready to be picked up. I tried that same day and she had a hissy fit. But right after that she was being her sweet self again.

As of January 11th, China continues to improve and become more tame. She still needs to gain weight but I would bet she's put on a pound or maybe two in only one week. She reached a new milestone tonight when she played with streamers on the end of a rod. It was the first time I had ever seen her play! It wasn't just a little bit of play; she was having a great time (and so was I).

Since last week, China has decided that she much prefers dry food over canned food, so getting the antibiotic in her is a challenge now. But I was able to squirt it in her mouth this morning (much to her displeasure) so she'll still be getting her medication.

She's right here with me, sitting on a little table, directing me to edit this and that. She looks really, really happy. So does her foster Dad.

China Jan 11th
China on January 11th

Please be sure to watch for updates on her progress here on this blog.


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