I'll say up front that this is going to be a little long and rambly. My apologies.
Yesterday, we took Gwen in for a dental appointment. I knew something was off, but I didn't know to what extent. She had flailed violently when the vet tried to look at her mouth during her physical, which led me to watch her over the next couple of weeks. Chewing seemed to bother her from time to time when she ate, and she would leave little pieces of the already little kibble scattered around her bowl. She also drooled a lot - occasionally I'd catch the drool looking darker, but I didn't know whether it was blood or food. I mean, come on, we've all eaten a piece of cake then brushed our teeth - your spit looks pretty gross. Even though Mikenna also needs dental work, I decided that we had to get Gwen in there first.
They pulled every single tooth yesterday. Her teeth were rotting, exposed, and her mouth was infected so badly that otherwise halfway decent teeth had to be pulled because of infection and abcesses.
That didn't happen overnight, and it didn't happen in the three weeks we've had her.
As I held a heavily medicated, towel wrapped Gwen last evening, the vet told me that, as much pain as she was currently in, she wasn't worse off, and may even feel a little better than she'd been living with. The cats they see in her condition are mean and very anti-social - Gwen was exceptionally sweet for how much pain she had been in.
Let me show you the description of Gwen as a shelter cat.
This is not the description of her that I'd have written based on how she was at the shelter. Even living with us at home, she let me pet her, and she was fond of following us around, but she wasn't much for being held, let alone hugged. This description was written at least a year before we adopted her.
That means, while living at the shelter, her disposition changed. I know people noticed, because someone who declared herself a frequent visitor warned me away as Gwen was mean.
I want to stress this - I don't blame the shelter. I know they do the best job they can with what they have. They rely on generosity - volunteers, and donations of items and money. This particular shelter is working towards being a no kill shelter. They helped over two thousand animals last year - and so, you know, I can't really blame them for not having the time/resources to sit with every cat and figure out not only if there's something wrong, but what it is.
And yet - with the infection as severe as it was, and with Gwen not crying out in pain, I have to wonder, how much longer did she have before that infection spread throughout her body? Would they have caught on before it was too late? Or would they have found her dead in a cat bed one day, having had no clue that anything was wrong?
How many animals has this happened to already? Suffering in silence because shelters don't have the resources to keep close watch over their residents - especially the long term ones!
I don't know how to begin to advocate for change. You have to have people who can and want to notice physical and behavioral changes in the animals. That means they have to come around regularly. It's probably ridiculous to make a paid position out of someone sitting with animals to check their physical and emotional welfare. It's a huge thing to ask of volunteers.
And even then, even if there were people who could spot change in an animal - what to do about it then? How can you determine whether the change is from depression or a physical ailment? Shelters can't afford to be taking every animal in for vet care every time there's a twinge.
Something is broken, and I don't know how to fix it. I just know that no animal should be in that amount of pain for an extended period of time with no one noticing. There has to be a way.
I want to do things better, for you, Gwen.