Veterinarian saves cat; stranger saves cat's owner

Tale of generous acts heartens spirits

December 30, 2010 (published)
By Edie Lau

Three acts of giving came together this month to save the life of a cat.

The first was performed by his owner, a young woman who so loved her cat that when he became ill, she immediately took him to the veterinarian even though she had just spent all her money moving to a new city for a new job.

The second was performed by the veterinarian, who made an instant decision to trust that the owner would pay the bill as promised.

The third was performed by a stranger in the clinic who happened to overhear the owner’s plight and discreetly contributed $1,500 toward the cat’s medical expenses.

When the veterinarian, Dr. Glenys Hughes, related the story three days before Christmas to colleagues on the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), an online professional community, readers welled with gratitude and shared their own stories of generosity — demonstrating that goodwill is contagious.

“I have a client who randomly comes in several times a year to give us cash to use in any way we see fit,” volunteered Dr. Maureen Dorsey, a practitioner in Oakland, Calif. “(He) said (that) a long time ago, when he was a struggling youth with a pet that needed surgery, some Good Samaritan helped pay his bill.

“I have used the funds for various cases and more than one recipient has come back later and repaid the money for someone else to receive.”

Experiences of kindness should be shared, Hughes said in an interview with the VIN News Service. “You want to send word around when cool stuff like that happens,” she said, noting that it's human nature to remember the bad more than the good.

Hughes is an associate at Merivale Cat Hospital, a three-doctor feline practice that’s been in business for 20 years in Ottawa, Ontario. The sick cat in Hughes’ good-news tale was a new patient; his owner had just moved with him and a second cat from Montreal to Ottawa to start a new job.

Hughes said the doctors in the practice use their discretion in deciding matters of credit. Typically, the clinic encourages anyone who needs to pay over time to use a third-party financial services company, she said. However, the veterinarians are willing occasionally to allow long-established clients to make payments on installment.

The cat’s owner, a young woman in her early 20s, was not an established client. “We were going out on a limb a little bit (to extend her credit),” Hughes acknowledged. “But she blew me away with her maturity.”

Hughes could tell the owner knew she was taking a risk spending her savings in the move but that she thought she had the situation covered, more or less. The owner related how she had hoped her cats wouldn't get sick — a thought that impressed the veterinarian with its prescience.

Sure enough, one of the two cats got sick. Hughes said the stress of the move may have contributed to his developing a urethral blockage. Unable to urinate, he was in and out of the litter box, straining and crying. The owner knew right away something was wrong and didn’t delay in taking him to the cat hospital.

Hughes saw the cat’s life was in danger. Based on the owner’s responsible demeanor, the veterinarian made a swift decision to treat the cat and have faith that payment would be made. “It’s an emergency; you can’t hem and haw,” she said.

As it turned out, the cat’s case was difficult. He was so badly obstructed that the doctor could not insert a catheter to relieve the obstruction. She tried bladder decompression to ease the pressure, passing a needle through the wall of the bladder to draw off some of the urine.

That helped. But when the veterinarian took an X-ray of the cat in hopes of identifying the source of obstruction, she saw evidence of urine in his abdomen, indicating that his bladder had ruptured during the procedure.

Surgery to repair the bladder was an option, but not attractive. The cat, being very sick, was not a great candidate for anesthesia. “She’s already put a lot of money in,” Hughes said, speaking of the owner, “and you don’t want to end with a dead cat.”

Finally, the veterinarian and owner agreed on a conservative approach: The cat would stay in the hospital for a few days with the urethral catheter in place and his bladder would be manually expressed, in hopes that the wall of the bladder would heal naturally with time.

Before the owner left, she stopped at the reception desk to discuss arrangements for payment. It was the kind of conversation that's not meant to be overheard by strangers. “We try to be somewhat discreet about it, but it’s a small building,” Hughes said.

Someone did hear. That someone, after the cat’s owner left, walked up to the reception desk and offered $500 toward the young woman’s bill. The benefactor asked to be anonymous.

“We were all flabbergasted,” Hughes said. “Holy smokes.”

Dr. Robin Douglas, a practitioner in Madison, Wisc., pointed out in the VIN discussion that Hughes played an important part in the act of kindness. “You deserve a huge amount of the credit here for being willing to do a payment plan,” Douglas wrote. “Had (the donor) not overheard the arrangements, that incredibly generous woman would not have had the opportunity to help.”

Hughes does not know the generous client. “I don’t think she’s a client who comes in really frequently,” she said.

And yet the woman came in a second time this month to pick up food for her own pets. She asked at the reception desk how the young woman's cat was doing. Recovering nicely, she learned. And then the stranger made another donation.

All told, Hughes said, the cat’s bill added up to $2,400, of which the donor covered $1,500.

“You can just imagine how grateful and overwhelmed the owner was,” Hughes told her colleagues on VIN.

Offering the tale like a Christmas card, she called it “a lovely story to warm your heart, especially suited to the season.”

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