Johnny on the Spot Heather Hines
These days, it seems my reputation as an animal rescuer precedes me. At least in our small corner of the world. Through articles and events featured in local newspapers, our efforts on behalf of the animal welfare world have slowly become well recognized within our community. I had also hosted a bi-weekly cable access show on various animal welfare topics for nearly two years and was recognized from time to time by viewers.
It wasn’t too much of a surprise when I was at work one day, and I picked up a message from a loan officer at my bank branch. She explained in her message that there was a kitten dying outside the door of the bank, and she wanted to know if I could do something for it. I called her back right away and asked if she could put the kitten in a box until I could make it back to that side of town to pick it up. She put me on hold and went outside, but came back and told me they could no longer find the kitten. I suggested the kitten was probably hiding in the bushes nearby or had crawled under a parked car, and asked her to look again, but a few minutes later, she came back to the phone and told me the kitten was still nowhere to be found. I was frustrated because I knew the kitten had to be there, and my conscience wouldn’t allow me to just go about my day knowing this kitten was in trouble, so I left work and drove to the bank to search for myself.
I found the kitten almost as soon as I got out of my car. It was in a dirt area adjacent to the parking lot of the bank. It was actually an adult orange tabby, with medium length hair. I caught my breath at what I saw. The condition of the cat was grave. He was lying in the dirt, covered with dried blood. He was very thin and dehydrated looking, and I could smell a sour smell as I approached him. The cat didn’t try to run, or even get to his feet. I spoke to him for a few seconds, and he gazed up at me, but nothing more. When I lifted him, I noticed immediately that his rear legs were limp. His body felt bony and cold. I hurried back to my car and climbed in laying the cat gently in my lap. He was quiet as I drove to our vet’s clinic, but he responded to my scratching him under his chin by tipping his head back and rubbing against my hand. I was somewhat surprised he was still affectionate in spite of his compromised condition.
Doctor Mark examined the kitty and told me he believed the right leg was out of the socket causing it to splay out to the side, and his left leg appeared to have some neurological damage that caused it to splay out to the other side. Subsequent x-rays showed it was worse than Doctor Mark expected, and the cat’s pelvis was badly crushed. He could stand and move on his legs, but he would growl at himself from the pain when he tried to move. The sour smell was from a severe infection in the center section of his tail. The flesh was torn away and the bone exposed. We realized then, the cat had likely been run over, causing the damage to his tail and rear legs. He was extremely dehydrated and severely anemic. Doctor Mark immediately started him on IV fluids and antibiotics, and we offered him food. He was hungry and ate quickly. We considered it a good sign that he was both interested in food and able to eat. By the age of the tail injury, we figured he had probably been struggling along in the parking lot without food or water for more than a week. My heart hurt for what he must have gone through. I needed to think of a name for his veterinary records quickly. Thus this brave cat became “Johnny on the Spot.”
I checked on him every day, but Johnny was on a bumpy ride to recovery. When I brought him in, his temperature had been normal, but a few days later, it had jumped to one hundred and six, a fever undoubtedly caused by the infection. Doctor Mark thought he had probably been so dehydrated and anemic initially, that his temperature appeared lower than it actually was. The next day Johnny’s temperature was down to one hundred and four, but his blood work revealed the anemia was worse. A normal blood “packed cell volume” (pcv) is thirty, but Johnny’s was only seven. I was very worried about his condition and the roller coaster ride he was on.
Later on that day I received a call from one of the other vets at the clinic. Doctor Elser told me Johnny had suddenly gone into a full arrest. One of the vet techs, Holly, had heard a human-like moan followed by a loud thud coming from Johnny’s kennel, and when she rushed in, she found him in a full arrest. He was not breathing and his heart was no longer beating. They worked frantically and were able to resuscitate him, but Doctor Elser felt Johnny might not breathe on his own if they removed the oxygen. When she called me with the news, we discussed his condition and sadly agreed that if he arrested again, the humane thing would be to let him go. I clung to the hope that Johnny’s young heart would be strong enough to help him fight back against his weak blood. Doctor Elser told me Johnny’s pcv had fallen to a life threatening four. He had almost no blood. She could not be certain whether he might have sustained permanent brain damage from the time he had been without oxygen when he arrested.
A few minutes later, Doctor Elser called again and told me that remarkably, Johnny was breathing on his own without oxygen. She was noticeably relieved and pleased with the results of their hard work. She had also noticed he was moving his tail and looking around, so she felt reasonably sure he had not suffered any brain damage. Doctor Elser explained that because of his low blood pcv, a blood transfusion was probably Johnny’s best chance for survival. She suggested that Roscoe, one of the two cats who reside at the clinic, might be a good candidate for the transfusion as long as their blood turned out to be compatible.
Roscoe was an incredibly affectionate, mellow, senior cat who had lived at the clinic for about five years, after being rescued with both of his rear legs cut off. He had been a jowly, old black “tom cat”, who had never been neutered. We had never been able to confirm what actually happened to Roscoe, but he had dragged his bloody stumps onto a woman’s doorstep early one morning and she had brought him in to the clinic looking for help. Ordinarily, when a cat loses its legs or tail, it’s from climbing under the hood of a car or piece of farm machinery for warmth and unwittingly resting an appendage directly on a fan blade. In either case, the bone ends will usually be jagged or uneven from the tearing force of the injury. The smooth, blunt bone ends where Roscoe’s legs had been cut off, forced us to consider the possibility that his wounds had been inflicted by a human. We were horrified by the thought that someone could have committed such a cruel and inhumane act on a cat, but especially horrified that it would have happened to a friendly cat like Roscoe.
Still, Roscoe had recovered, and everyone was smitten by his generous and forgiving temperament. With his gentle nuzzling and trilling for attention, he had a way of melting your heart soon after you met him. After watching Roscoe recover slowly from several surgeries to try to close the skin over the exposed bones of his legs, Doctor Mark realized that he had grown too fond of him to let him go. He decided Roscoe would become “the clinic cat.” Although he could get along pretty well on his stumps, Roscoe usually spent his days lying on a fuzzy blanket on the front counter of the clinic, where he would greet the clients as they came in. Roscoe loved to bask safely in the sun that cast through the window across the floor of the clinic, so during the summer, every visit I would make to the clinic, I would pick him up and carry him out to the grass across the parking lot and we would sit in the sun together for awhile, bonding in the warmth and fresh air. Roscoe would talk to me and nuzzle his head in my neck. He would lift his head high in the air sniffing at those long familiar outdoor smells. He and I had become very good friends. I was immediately worried for Roscoe when Doctor Elser suggested using him for the blood transfusion. He seemed pretty healthy, but still, he was getting on in years and even though I desperately wanted Johnny to survive, I couldn’t bear the idea of jeopardizing Roscoe’s life to save Johnny’s. Doctor Elser was also very fond of Roscoe and assured me he was a good candidate for the transfusion and she would not risk his health or safety. I agreed to the transfusion.
The blood was a match, and the transfusion took about an hour. When I called back, the staff was surprised and excited when they told me Johnny was already standing up and eating a bowl of food! I was right…his heart had been strong, and Roscoe’s blood had saved Johnny’s life! Doctor Elser told me she had her doubts with all that had happened to him, and his survival was truly amazing. The next morning, Johnny’s pcv was up to seventeen, and each day it continued to climb until it finally reached thirty. As disgusting as it was to accomplish, I ground up some organic beef liver in a blender, and brought it up to the clinic to feed Johnny. I knew it would provide vital iron for his blood while helping rebuild his red blood cells. I expected to have to feed the liver to him orally from a syringe, but Johnny seemed to crave it, and ate it without hesitation when I poured it over his food. Roscoe also ate ravenously that day, and was sleeping soundly on his blanket on the counter when I came up to visit him and Johnny. My eyes welled with gratitude while I whispered softly in his ear how grateful I was. He looked up and trilled at me, then gave a big yawn and stretched before resting his head again to continue his well deserved nap.
A few days later, I brought Johnny home to recover. He continued to eat and drink as if making up for lost time. He melted contentedly into his special bed, as if its softness were the most joyful thing any cat could ever dream of having. Johnny seemed very grateful indeed. He loved to butt heads with me and he would roll his head around in ecstasy when I scratched his belly. Eventually he stopped growling when he tried to walk, and as he gained strength he became able to balance on his legs and even started to climb into my lap when I spoke to him. He was pretty nervous about meeting my dogs, and I was nervous about him meeting my cats. Since Johnny wasn’t neutered yet, I wasn’t sure how some of the more dominant neutered males might act with him.
The first time I brought Johnny out of his room, I sat on my bed late one night with him sitting nervously in my lap. My little scrapper Runty was the first to come over to investigate who was sitting in my lap. At seven pounds, Runty might be a little guy, but he’s as confident as any twenty pound cat would be. Usually Runty would be pretty jealous of another cat taking his place in my lap. He approached Johnny slowly, and lowered his head with caution as he sniffed the stranger. Ordinarily, I would have expected him to back up and hiss or slap at Johnny, but an amazing thing happened instead. Runty sniffed at Johnny’s neck, and then nuzzled at him and started to lick his head. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. Johnny sat quietly and allowed Runty to groom him. Two more cats approached slowly and buried their faces into Johnny the same way Runty had. I was beside myself with wonder and amazement. I’m not sure what that incident was all about, but I was pretty convinced it was something that went well beyond what any human could begin to comprehend. I felt honored to have experienced the wonder of it. Maybe Johnny carried an aura with him that other cats recognize as something special. Whatever it is, I believe Johnny is a very lucky boy.