Three cats I saw this past week have brought me closer to understanding why I have chosen to work with this animal exclusively. (I still feel obligated to justify my preferences rationally. Still feel an envious nostalgia for "Real doctors treat more than one species" T-shirt I never bought and never will now :-) One is a Persian who came in vomiting, not eating, overall miserable and sick. Nothing new about any of these circumstances. But this little Persian was an extreme example of what breeding can do to an animal. She has no face to speak of, and her tongue is forever sticking out of a mouth too short to close over it. The canals that drain tears from her eyes into her nose are twisted shut, so the tears trickle out and soak the fur under her eyes. And I have yet to meet a Persian cat that is not extremely alarmed by a physical exam or any kind of holding for treatment - they are hypersensitive animals, disturbed and upset by the smallest of changes in their surroundings. I can't help thinking that this has something to do with cramming the brain into a box much too short to house it. If you had never seen a Persian before, you'd think this cat survived some horrible accident that chopped off her face and flattened what was left of it. That's pretty much what happened, except it took a few decades of dedicated human effort instead of a head-on collision with a speeding car - which in the end would have been more merciful.
There is only one fortunate circumstance to this story: this little cat and her breed are an exception, in that cats as a species have been allowed to remain much closer to their wild ancestors than have dogs. In dogs, there is just too much variety of human-induced abominations and woes for a wimp like me to push to the back of my mind. Delivering a litter of Boston terriers by C-section did not fill me with joy and dreams for the future, only with sadness and concern. Nor I do not ever wish to excel at being a glorified janitor, at cleaning up a mess I have no power to prevent. (Vets have no official say in what animals can or should be bred.) I'd like to practice in a way that would make my profession obsolete and redundant. I'd like cats to be eating good canned food or well-balanced and carefully prepared raw food, I'd like to see cat kibble outlawed as something bordering on animal cruelty - with special penalties for the label "Natural", but of course I can only afford this attitude on Sundays after sleeping in :-) On working days I diagnose and treat cats with inflammatory bowel disease, cats with failing kidneys, cats who can't pee because they are plugged up by crystals or stones. I get good at doing this, and I take pride in my skills - as long as I remember not to look at the big picture.
The second encounter was with a little animal at a local PetSmart. My boyfriend fell in love with him and started joking about buying or kidnapping him, so of course we had to go see this cat. He was a young Cornish Rex lad, alone in his cage as his brothers and sisters had been sold. He alternated between staring into space and pouncing at his toys, playing with abandon. He had the wrinkled face of a newborn baby - or an old man. Ever so slightly disconcerting. We asked to meet him and an assistant opened the cage and picked up the kitten and gave him to us. He was very quiet and dignified in his affection. A covert ten-second physical exam told me he had both his little testicles well in place, and a umbilical hernia - not necessarily dangerous by itself, but a likely sign that something else might be amiss inside. We asked his price, and were told that it was $1198. I have only heard of such prices for breeding-quality animals, not for pet-quality, no matter how pure-bred. There is no moral to this story, only questions. Such as, will the people who eventually buy him, allow him to breed and pass on his possibly not harmless imperfections? Once again, I completely failed to go "aaaaaah, how cuuuuuuute!" at the sight of this wrinkled little creature. All I wanted was to hold and shelter him from his very uncertain future.
The third cat was a magnificent snow-white Oriental Shorthair - a breed that resembles the Siamese, but is more extreme in the prominence of its long muzzle and cheekbones. Unlike Siamese, Oriental Shorthairs are quiet, sometimes perfectly silent, demand nothing, and seem to forgive everything. It is scary to think what can happen to these uncomplaining cats in the wrong hands. This cat's owner, a very old gentleman who dotes on him but has less-than-perfect vision, had cut his nails to the quick, and apparently the cat had not protested once. The only loud thing about this cat was his heart. This cat had the loudest heart murmur I have heard on any animal thus far: it was difficult to hear the heartbeat behind the whooshing noise. And yet - at home he runs and jumps and flies like the Avro Arrow he's named after, and shows no signs of illness. I shall see him again this week for a heart ultrasound that will show his heart and the work of its valves from the inside. No moral to this story either. None needed.