Wednesday, September 16, 2020

A (Brief) History of Devon


Devon and the Sunny Day

I've been meaning to fill in the back story of our recent new family member; I intended to wait until things were a little more settled but then I just plain forgot all about it. If I have seen you in person over the past few days, you will already know much if not all of this; however, most of you reading this will only have been able to follow the story as it has unfolded on Facebook, so I hope this will be of interest to you. 

So. Just in case you didn't read the very first post on FB about this, I'll start as far back as I can. "Devon" is a 15yo Devon rex cat (who I am fairly certain must have been named by a grandchild) who lived with one owner for most of his life to date. His owner has been forced to move into a long-term care home as a result of Alzheimer's; we have no way of knowing exactly how long ago she moved or how long she lived with increasing debilitation beforehand. All we do know is that she clearly loved this guy very much, because there was money set aside for him in her estate and there is some evidence that she had pet insurance for him at some point. Our specific knowledge of the little guy only goes back a couple of months. Apparently, the neighbour across the hall had been looking in on Devon and keeping him fed and watered for about a month before my friend Jane got involved. I am under the impression that the neighbour didn't really spend much time with him other than to look after his basic needs, and with him being a Devon rex whose owner doted on him, I cannot imagine this was a welcome change at his advanced age. 

Jane eventually made the difficult decision to take him in to live with her; this was only truly difficult because she had two Devons of her own who both passed away about a year apart not so long ago and she is still very much grieving their loss. In her original FB post, Jane said she was looking for a forever home for Devon because she knew she could not handle the grief again so soon were he to pass away quickly. She was also worried about him having issues negotiating her open staircase as he has some sight issues and had spent his entire life to that point in a one-floor apartment. The situation was made a little more urgent by the fact that Jane was scheduled to leave for a couple of weeks on vacation), and she needed some sort of resolution before this happened. I cut-and-pasted her post and amplified it myself; eventually, she made her original "Public" and I re-posted that one instead. At this point, one Keeper at the Toronto Zoo reached out to me, and another friend tagged a woman who has a "retirement home" for geriatric cats. 

As most of  you know already, we have a 10yo tabby named Addie. She is pretty laid-back ordinarily, but has never lived with another pet since we got her from her original family at about twelve weeks of age. She's absolutely not a cuddler nor lap cat; however, she is incredibly doting and absolutely devoted to my partner (Sarah) and me. I suffer with depression, anxiety, and ADHD (so I'm kind of a triple-threat) and shortly after Addie came to live with us, I fell into a pretty deep depression that lasted the better part of two years before I signed up to Volunteer at the Zoo to help combat it. During those days, Addie would frequently be downstairs (our previous residence was two floors) sleeping while I was working on the computer upstairs; whenever I would slip into an anxiety spiral she would appear at my elbow within minutes of the episode beginning and settle into a basket on my desk, keeping a close eye on me as she did so. Sarah used to say that she would have had a much harder time leaving me at home every day were it not for Addie's great love for me. I tell you this so you can understand why it is vitally important that we do nothing that will irreparably damage the bond we have with her. I'm not sure I would survive that, to be brutally honest.

We had often talked about introducing a second cat to Addie in past years, as she does not entertain herself tremendously well and is quite sedentary and overweight (not obese, mind you). After agonizing over this for a long time, we'd basically just stopped even considering it after we moved to our new, calmer place and all of us settled into a nice rhythm together. When we talked over Devon's situation, however, we realized that this would be the perfect opportunity to at least try to have a second cat in the household, as we could foster him for the time Jane was away and, if nothing was working out, we would not be painted into a corner in any way and could move him along, either back to Jane if she had a change of heart, or to someone who had reached out to us. An added bonus: as Devon is a geriatric cat, we could eliminate any concerns about his energy level being too high for Addie and ruining things before they even got started. So we told Jane we would at the very least take him to our home a few days before she went away (to help her calm down a bit) and keep him at least until she returned, with an eye to him staying with us permanently if it worked out with Addie (and Devon, of course). 

Well. The very day before we were to pick him up, Devon had some kind of an "episode". Jane called me in the afternoon from the parking lot of a Vet Clinic, because she wasn't allowed to even be in the lobby while they ran a battery of tests on him. His pupils, which were ordinarily huge to begin with, had become alarmingly dilated; Jane said he was "pacing" and the vet report said he kept turning only to the left for quite a while. This had come on out of nowhere (she had seen no signs of this in the 2 1/2 weeks she had had him with her) and she was quite alarmed. Suffice it to say, we were all more or less convinced he wouldn't make it to the weekend at that point. Jane was beside herself with stress, so I said we would come as planned the next morning and, if a tough decision needed to be made, we would make it and take care of it ourselves. 

We showed up at the appointed time and discovered that Jane had brought all of his accoutrements with her to work, expecting we were going to take him either way. So Sarah and I had to kind of suss everything out on the fly. Devon had shown a great deal of improvement overnight, likely helped along by a prescription of Gabapentin, of which he had an immediate dose and a second one the morning we came to get him. I believe there was enough for 10 days, all told. Once a great deal of discussion took place with Jane, who was suffering tremendously from the stress, we agreed to take Devon with us and we set up an appointment with Dr. Kato (Addie's old vet before we moved and an amazing person just in general) at Danforth and Dawes for the next day to do a Quality of Life assessment for us so we could make an informed decision about his future. After Dr. Kato saw him in her exam room (we were allowed into the lobby), she came out and sat down for a chat. In her expert opinion, his QoL was still excellent and she saw no signs of any of the issues from two days before. I should mention here that we had stopped the medication immediately upon picking him up, as we wanted clean bloodwork should we choose to have it done, and actually have not resumed it to this point. We did decide to go ahead with the blood analysis after deciding to give him the best chance for survival; however, as this was the Saturday of the long weekend, which we did not receive the results until Tuesday. In the meantime. we brought Devon home and set him up in our study, with the door closed, and took turns lying with him in there for the first couple of days. He spent most of this time inside a little tent bed that came with him, but gradually grew more active, ostensibly as the effects of the sedative wore off. 

Tuesday's phone call from Dr. Kato brought the news that Devon's blood work was quite excellent for an elderly cat; in fact, the only new concern she had was a high CPK level reading. (We had to look that up at home; here is a great link to help understand what this means.) It really does appear, from all the tests, that Devon has had some damage to his brain in some way, whether a lesion or something more sinister. The CPK issue might also explain why he seemed to be walking on his left elbow rather than his wrist for a couple of days, which is something that had concerned Jane (and would explain the left-turns, I think), but had pretty much disappeared once he had been with us for a day or two. Additionally, he has rather severe alopecia, but we are witnessing some return of his fur which causes us to think he might have been "stress grooming" after he lost his owner. Jane was also bringing him into work with here every weekday to make sure he was ok, which is absolutely what I would have done myself, so he never really settled into a new home until he arrived at our apartment. All of these issues put together made us realize we couldn't in good conscience look around for another home for him where the person was expecting a pet for companionship, as it certainly appeared he had a lot of late-life issues. On top of all of this, he has sight and hearing loss (left eye and right ear, thankfully) as well. He really is a fighter and a survivor to be reckoned with.

Now, onto the much better news. His appetite has still been very good. He keeps himself extremely well-hydrated (so much so that we were expecting to hear a diagnosis of diabetes from the blood work) and he is a regular visitor to his litter box for urination and defecation, and has been able to find it every time. Despite noted mobility issues, he is still an extremely good jumper, and he frequently leaps from the floor to our bed (mattress, box spring, and full-frame on legs) with absolutely no issue whatsoever – and is able to get himself down without assistance. He seemed every day to be getting better and better, more and more confident, grooming less often, adapting to new people and sounds (I may well be the first male human he has ever lived with), enjoying the sunshine, chirping and purring to beat the band. When we finally took the baby gate down on Monday, 10 days after he first arrived, he immediately went wandering around, eventually choosing to lie on a bench in the master bedroom – in full sun – for a long time, and finding his way to our bed at night where he lay partially under a blanket tucked hard against my shin until dawn. Tuesday morning, I left for a visit to the Zoo while Sarah worked from home and kept an eye on our two charges; he was attentive and alert when I departed at 10:30 AM.

Addie has been slow to warm to him, but all I really wish from her is to just ignore Devon the brief times she will even have to encounter him. He sleeps a lot because of his age and even just a "meh" attitude from her would suffice. However, once he gained access to the whole apartment without us keeping them gated apart. Addie has begun to hiss at him. I do feel this is something that would wear off in time, as long as it isn't affecting Devon adversely. And here's where we come to the crux of our current problem. Devon had an encounter with Addie Tuesday morning that neither of us witnessed, but Sarah heard a kind of yowl from Addie, rather than a hiss. We do not believe there was any physical interaction but obviously cannot be sure. This did occur before I saw Devon sitting straight up on the edge of the bed as I left, so there was no immediate fallout. But as the day progressed, Sarah noticed he was not coming out of his tent bed to interact with the world at all. When I got home, I also noticed his pupils, which had seemed to be beginning to constrict over the past few days, had gone back to fully dilated, and he quite obviously wasn't even seeing shadows. He didn't chirp or purr when I approached and petted him, which is a first time for both. I decided to sleep on the bed in the study with him Tuesday night so he would know I was there and so I could watch for any further deterioration. Eventually, I elicited some purrs from him at some point overnight, but when he did come out, he seemed to be looking for something (I have no idea what) over and over again, and it struck me more as kind of a stereotypy than anything else. Today, Wednesday, he did seem to be coming out of it, slowly, but he still has not come anywhere close to the highs of Monday as I write this on Wednesday evening. He was more active and awake on Monday than he was virtually all the other eleven days he has been with us put together, so it's entirely possible that he is simply exhausted.

So that's where we stand. I don't know if this is another episode such as Jane witnessed but if it can be established that he will have these issues for the rest of his life, this is something we absolutely can and will handle. Sarah works from home due to COVID-19 and I am home most days that I am not at the Zoo. He will have lots of love, calmness, attention, and access to human contact and cuddling for as long as he needs it. However, if this is a regression caused by a reaction (perhaps of fright) to Addie's negativity, I very much want to discover that as soon as possible, because there is no way I can let him struggle through that after he has fought so hard to achieve a good, peaceful time at the end of his life. Lying with him on Tuesday night I have to say I was leaning toward it being the outside influences, but today I think it is most likely neurological. We will not be running any tests for this – our vet agrees with this decision – as they are very expensive and, in any event, there will be no heroic measures for Devon going forward. We will just watch to see if these episodes become more frequent or more severe and conduct ourselves accordingly, as long as they are not being exacerbated by Addie, who is exhibiting extreme calm and contentment at all other times since he's been here, as evidenced by her body language. 

And that's the history of Devon. (Note I did not say "brief" that time.) At this point, we will keep him here with us hopefully at least until Jane returns, and then we'll have a better handle on causes. I have to say, though, I was over the moon on Monday with the amazing day he had; yesterday felt like a punch in the throat. If it turns out he cannot thrive here with Addie he will be moved virtually immediately; at that time, I fully expect to rehome him in the Kitty Retirement Estates. If Addie is not the cause in any way, I would much rather keep him here and make his days the very best they can be. 

His special bed made for Devon alone

Here is my favourite shot of him so far at our place; my friend, Allison, calls this, "A Study in Beige." <3 

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