Life · Pet Shenanigans

To Gwen, or Not to Gwen

I meant to write about this a little while ago – I wanted to wait until I had the whole story, and then time just got away from me.

Since we’ve been Gwen’s humans, every now and again, she pees on our bed. It is insanely frustrating, even more so when, for whatever reason, she pees on our pillows … while we’re laying on them.
But lucky for Gwen, thirteen years of pee practice with Mikenna means that while I don’t love it, I’m used to it to some extent.

We’ve come to notice that peeing on the bed generally doesn’t just happen for no reason. This is true of cats, generally speaking, they want to pee in their litter boxes and not doing so is a sign that something is wrong. Unfortunately, it’s up to you to play pet pee detective and find out why. 99.99999999999% of the time, they are not peeing to spite you, because cats really don’t do this. There is either a physical reason (illness, or physical pain) or an environmental reason (marking, or their litter boxes are too dirty). With Gwen, it’s usually an indicator that she’s either got a UTI or that her thyroid numbers are up. I do think that the litter box cleanliness accounts for a non-zero percentage of incidents, however.

Earlier this spring, we had an increase in Gwencidents – mostly limited to peeing in the bathtub. It was tempting to let that go, because all things considered, I don’t mind it, but I figured there was a reason. So, off to the vet we went.

Fast forward a few months, and I don’t remember how many times we’ve been to the vet for this UTI of Gwen’s that will not go away. We’d drop her off for a urine sample, get the diagnosis and a round of antibiotics, a week off the antibiotics she’d start peeing again, so we’d get a refill, do that, then it’d start all over again, rinse and repeat.
I was tired of wrangling this poor cat twice daily to shove (liquid) antibiotics down her gullet, and I don’t think she was the biggest fan either. As antibiotics can do, sometimes they made her throw up more, and sometimes they led to what we’ll call an ‘unpleasant time in the litter box’. (Thankfully it WAS in the litter box at least. Though it’s not like we didn’t have training in that area with Mikenna as well.)

So, the vet had noticed some abnormal cells in her urine, and wanted to do an ultrasound on her, just to rule out anything funky. We went ahead with that, and the results came back saying that she had some sort of mass in her bladder, and that it could very well be bladder cancer. (I guess you don’t end up with a lot of bladder masses that are otherwise.) They sent off her ultrasound for a second opinion, and I was heartbroken for my sassico.

Having adopted Gwen as an adult, and not a young one at that, I knew that we had signed up for a shorter life with her. Also, I blinked and it’s been five and a half years, and good ones at that. She’s had dental surgery twice, countless thyroid checks, more upper respiratory infections than any cat needs, and now this uti thing, but she has been a happy cat, dog gone it. If five and a half years were all we were going to get with her, I knew that we couldn’t have done any better by her. She has loved and been loved in quantity enough to fill two feline lifespans.
It’s easier to say all that than to feel it, however. Gwen has had a profound impact on me and on our little family, and the thought of losing her was gut wrenching – even more so as I watched her running around the house, chirping happily at everything, being the happiest version of herself. At least when we’d gotten Mikenna’s terminal diagnosis, we knew something was wrong with her. We’d hoped for the best, but it wasn’t that we didn’t see it coming. (Or at least I did)

I had several days to love on Gwen and to think about the impact she’s had on us. She was the first cat we adopted from a shelter, and without her, there would be no Cuppie and Vizzi. It was in the months before adopting her that I had learned more about animal shelters, how necessary they are, but also stressful for the animals. Even the best shelters aren’t places most cats would choose to live – and many cats aren’t at their best when living in a shelter, leading them to get passed over for their younger, more gregarious counterparts.
Gwen was certainly evidence of this. I’ve said before that when I first met her, she didn’t want me to touch her anywhere other than the top of her head. Whether it was because she was in pain from her dental issues (unknown to us at the time), because she was tired of being petted by random people, or some combination, I don’t know. But even a volunteer there warned me about her, calling her mean. But the very traits that scared everyone else off was exactly why I wanted to bring her home. I didn’t care if she just lived out her days on a perch in my office, I could tell she was miserable where she was, and after having spent over two years in the shelter – deserved a home. It surprised us both when she turned out to be a sweetheart who wanted to spend time with us.

I’ve never had to work for an animal’s trust and affection the way I did with Gwen. Now, taking her away from the shelter won me a lot of brownie points with the tiny sass, but winning her trust was another thing entirely. She became very happy to see me, but didn’t express any wants or needs for a very long time. These days, she has no problem walking across my head in the middle of the night to let me know that she’s hungry, but for the first several months, she’d sit off to the side in the kitchen, hoping that I’d see her and think to throw some food her way.
I read something about how shelter animals, in order to build trust with you, need to never associate your voice or hands with fear. So when we adopted Gwen, I made it a point never to raise my voice with her, and to move my hands slowly, so she would be able to expect what I was doing, and not be afraid. That habit spilled over into my interactions with our other animals, too.
Here’s the thing – when you raise your voice in frustration with your pets, they don’t know why. Cats in particular don’t associate your anger with their actions, and are more likely to associate your anger with getting caught. Or, in the case of behavioral problems, your anger will only scare them more, and the problems will build. In short, raising your voice will solve nothing and may only cause more problems. (Spraying cats with water bottles also does nothing in the long run. If a cat wants to do something, but knows that you will spray them, they’ll simply wait until you’re not around.
Being patient for Gwen’s sake made me more patient overall. She made me want to understand cats, why they do the things they do. Along the way, I learned things like the fact that cats don’t do things out of spite, that they thrive best when there’s a routine, and that they do, in fact, like being with their humans. (This fact has been super relevant with the covid quarantine, and many people saying that cats are annoyed by having their humans home. It’s not that simple. The cats are probably more thrown off by the fact that you’re acting outside your routine than not wanting you home. It’s nothing personal.)

So, after all that, we got another call, saying that the second opinion on Gwen’s mass was that it wasn’t a mass after all – just a collection of cells, probably related to her uti. When her urine sample came back a few days later, it showed that the number of cells in her urine were dropping, and it showed no signs of infection. (A later thyroid test did reveal that her thyroid is a tiny bit wonky, so we’re working on that.)

Maybe you can see why I’ve had a difficult time with this story. For all the angst that went into it, the ending is lackluster…

And then it turned out that Gwen was fine after all. We don’t know why she is fine, or really what was wrong with her in the first place, but whatever it is, it seems to be resolving on it’s own.

Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely grateful for this outcome, as it seemed far less likely than her having cancer. I’m just baffled. My personal, tongue in cheek opinion is that Gwen is just too stubborn to be sick. She’s rather fond of her life here, and has no intention of giving it up.

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