At the beginning of August my cat Clark had his neutering surgery. He’d been doing well despite his congenital liver shunt, which means he was born with a vessel that at least partially bypasses his liver and doesn’t allow blood to be filtered properly. It’s kind of rare in cats, and creates problems for him processing food, particularly protein. I’ve been through a lot with him in his short life, and all the emotional ups and downs have created a very strong bond between us.
Since his diagnosis early this year he’s been on medication twice per day and is supposed to eat a low-protein diet. From the start he never liked the special prescription food the vet said he had to eat. So I would shop for the lowest protein foods I could find, whatever he would like. Most of the time he’d eat them for awhile and then stop, and I just learned to adapt.
But even with all his fussiness and health problems, he appeared to be doing pretty good.
I had been told by the vet his surgery went well and little anesthesia was used. But despite those reassuring words for over two weeks I struggled to get him to eat again. He no longer wanted much of any canned food I offered him. I tried different flavors, dried and canned. Some were more promising than others, but all failed to get him eating well and back to his pre-surgerical state of good health.
I took him back to vet twice for check-ups, though nothing on his bloodwork or exams showed any cause for concern. The specialist vet told me it was just likely due to his liver shunt, that recovery is often very slow for the animals with them, that they are much more sensitive to effects of anesthesia.
While all of that was good to know, it didn’t help me feel one bit better about him not eating well or help improve his appetite.
So I returned to a homemade cat food recipe I had gotten from an animal nutritionist at Cornell University. It’s a service they provide for anyone who contacts the office with a request for special diet to be made at home. It isn’t free, but it offered me an alternative. Clark hadn’t really liked it before, but I was willing to give it a try once again.
For many people I think it may seem ridiculous to start cooking for a cat. But since Clark came along, I’ve had to make a lot of lifestyle adjustments. As someone who loves animals and wants to take good care of their pets, I can’t just say, “well I can’t do something because it’s inconvenient for me.” I never expected or thought when I took him and his brother, Louis, home that something like this would happen. That he would need quite this level of care. It was surprise and a disappointment that he would not just be the carefree cat I imagined.
But I’ve adapted, something I’ve always been pretty good at. Probably the nurse in me, too, is more used to the idea of taking care of things, of putting aside what you want for yourself sometimes in order to help someone else. And I view it like caring for a sick parent or child at home. It’s not something anyone hopes for or ever wants to undertake, but it happens in life. And I could either accept that was the challenge I was facing, a part of the agreement I made in taking Clark, or I could give up.
Many years ago I left my own life for awhile and returned home to care for my father when he was dying. I put aside what I wanted, what was easy or convenient in my life, and did what I knew I needed to do. I didn’t view the situation with Clark as being that different. So I decided again I had to keep my part of the bargain.
And it hasn’t been easy or convenient. But like many changes that you have to make in life, those needed adjustments, eventually you get used to them and they don’t seem so foreign anymore. You squeeze into them like a new pair of shoes, and though you may get a few blisters, eventually the shoes stretch out and the callouses form. Slowly and hopefully I am learning to live with this new set of circumstances.
I am fortunate to be home enough to care for Clark as well as I can. He was very smart in the person, a nurse of all things, he picked out (or suckered in). And nature, fortunately, made him especially cute and lovey-dovey, to help make up for all the trouble he’s been.
One of my good friends shared with me that she believes Clark and all the adjustments I’ve had to make for him came along at a time when I needed something to kind of limit me, to keep me focused on what I cared most about, and to help guide my decisions in the future. To determine my priorities, what I was willing and able to stand up for, and to learn to protect those things I most held dear.
When she said that a light went off in my head. It all felt right, true, and there for the understanding.
And I do believe all things come to us for a reason, even the ones we want the least. There is a quote I read by the poet Rumi that I return to when I start to doubt or get frustrated with the course of events. It’s taped to my bedroom mirror, so I can easily see it when I need it again:
“This being human is a guest house. Every morning is a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all… treat each guest honorably. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”
The recipe I make for Clark isn’t that complicated or difficult or even that expensive compared to prescription pet food. It’s just a bit time consuming, and involves some math (not my strong suit) when trying to make a big enough batch to last a couple weeks. After some tinkering and preparing the recipe in a couple different ways (eggs were the original problem, he doesn’t like them), he seems to finally like the latest version. He has begun hopping up on the kitchen counter when I pull his food out of the refrigerator in the morning, something he never did before.
After weeks of worrying it’s a relief and simply a pure joy to my heart that Clark is happy and energetic and playful once again.
I think we always end up making accommodations for those things we love, be it people, places, occupations or pets. Especially when problems or crises arrive and we are not ready for them (who ever is?), we have to learn to swim or sinking down we go. But that’s life, and there’s no getting away from it. And instead of fighting against changes, it’s always been better for me to try and embrace them. They are inevitable, unending. So I try to adapt, and change myself, too.
And so each thing prepares the way for another, stretching and shifting me open, ever wider, helping me grow. At least that is the way I choose to see them.
If anything, Clark is doing better than ever. It makes me wonder if it’s the quality of pet food ingredients, or maybe the preservatives or additives they put in that were the biggest problems for him. So silly or not, learning to make his food has been one of the best things I’ve done so far for him, and I would accept the task all over again. I’ve started to think maybe I should start cooking for all the animals. It may seem like a small example, but it still is a life lesson, one I’m once again making room for.
I've never really liked labels: I am this, I am that... But in the interest of introducing myself to the world, I can say that I am many things: nurse, writer, photographer, poet, painter, gardener, friend, armchair philosopher, counselor, nature lover, real-estate aficionado, movie buff, sometime yogi, and aspiring world-traveler. I think that's a pretty good list... for now. I want to become a bigger part of the vital, creative force I feel deeply at work in the world and connect with other people who want to do the same.