By Diane Briggs
In case you don’t remember the story in our spring newsletter about Elinor, the obese cat surrendered to the shelter, I will give you a brief overview. Elinor, a 9-year-old tiger cat, was surrendered to Berkshire Humane Society (BHS) on a very cold day in February due to behavior issues.
When I came into work that Monday, as usual, I asked how the weekend went. Dottie took me into a room to show me Elinor. As I approached her cage, my heart sunk. I saw this extremely large cat (22 pounds to be exact) lying in her litter box with skin just draping over the edges of the box. I looked into this cat’s eyes, and all I saw was emptiness, loneliness and sadness…a beautiful cat that seemed totally forlorn, lost, and unwanted.
Reading Elinor’s intake I couldn’t help but cry. Elinor had lived with a family her entire life. They loved her, and she used to be a lap cat. But apparently things changed. Elinor co-existed with the other cats in the house until the numbers grew, and she eventually got pushed out. So as these changes occurred, she became an outcast.
For the past two years, this wonderful cat received little if any human contact. Perhaps to compensate for the lack of attention, her family fed her 3 cups of a food a day. Elinor gained so much weight that she had a difficult time walking. Because she couldn’t clean herself, she became very smelly, and her family felt she was a health risk to their grandchildren. At this point Elinor was forced to live outside during the summer and in the basement during the winter.
Meeting Elinor and learning what this poor cat was forced to endure the last 2 years made me extremely sad but also set me on a mission to help this “broke pet” unpack the baggage she had carried the past 2 years. John, who is always open to “thinking outside the box,” let me move Elinor into our office area. Initially Elinor stayed in the closet, but that was okay considering she lived alone in a basement for 2 years. I also understood that she needed time to adjust and learn to trust again.
She was given a warm and soothing bath which made her smell so wonderful. It must have made her feel better too because I actually saw some life in her eyes. After a week or so, Elinor started to venture out. We were all shocked to see how large she really was. She had so much extra skin that it fell over her should like a shawl and stopped just above her front feet. Her stomach area was so large that it almost hit the floor and made it almost impossible for her to go to the bathroom without soiling herself. However, we were there to help her, and we used a washcloth to keep her clean.
Elinor’s eyes were still very sad, and it bothered me. People who know me well understand how deeply moved I get when an animal is so dejected. Elinor needed us to help her believe in herself and to learn to love and trust people again. Daily sweet talks and gentle petting helped her a lot. We made her as comfortable as possible. As days turned into weeks, Elinor began her transformation from being sad, lonely, and rejected to actually becoming part of our wonderful BHS family….a family that would not turn our backs on her. Elinor began to blossom, and I eventually saw the sparkle in her eyes!!!
Because she was so large, we questioned if perhaps she had a medical issue such as diabetes. After a total physical exam, urinalysis, and extensive blood work, they found she had no health issues. This was wonderful news, but now we had to figure out how to help her lose weight. Elinor had the frame for a 10 pound cat, not the 22 pounds she was carrying around.
Dr. Michelle Gorbutt and Dr. Heather Blake from Greylock Animal Hospital graciously come to the shelter on a monthly basis to examine any pets we need looked at. When they met Elinor, they believed that Elinor actually weighed around 30+ pounds at some point, which resulted in all this excess skin hanging on her. To help her lose weight, we limited her food intake. I would take her down the hallway so she would walk back to the office, and we used string toys to motivate her.
Elinor finally got to the point where we could see she lost weight, and her back legs became clearly defined. She was able to move around a little better, and her sad eyes were gone. However, as she lost the weight, the excess skin started to droop even further. Her fur on her back stood up straight due to the skin pulling down on her. Her stomach pouch would hit her back knees as she walked. Occasionally this same area would get in the way as she urinated.
So as all her friends at the shelter watched Elinor turn the corner from sad and lonely and unable to move, we watched her struggle to walk and/or move comfortably. We knew there was really nothing more we could do to help her. We couldn’t cut back her food anymore and we couldn’t force her to exercise and/or walk more because she was clearly uncomfortable.
Because Drs. Gorbutt and Blake had followed Elinor for months, they got to know this wonderful cat very well. We felt the last option to help Elinor was to see if they could safely do some type of surgery to remove her excess skin. We would have never thought about this surgery for cosmetic reasons but we had to think about it for Elinor. The two vets talked among themselves and decided that they would be willing to help her. They agreed with us that Elinor had plateaued on her weight loss and that she was uncomfortable.
So for quality of life and hygiene purposes, surgery was done on Elinor, or Ellie Mae as I affectionately call her, on Monday, August 12, at Greylock Animal Hospital. It was a tough day for Ellie Mae and a very difficult day for all her friends at the shelter. We knew she was in excellent hands, but we all worried. There are always risks with surgery for animals as well as people. Would this surgery be successful? Finally, we got word – Elinor made it through surgery, and she was recovering from the anesthesia. Drs. Gorbutt and Blake successfully removed 2.5 pounds of excess skin.
Since Elinor is such a huge part of my day and my heart, I visited Elinor at Greylock Animal Hospital each day after work. The first day I saw her I started to cry…not because she looked terrible but because she looked like a normal cat. It was the first time I had seen her laying on her side. Prior to surgery, she was so large she couldn’t get comfortable on her side. I watched her in sheer amazement at how good she looked despite the shaved body, the drains in her side, and all the stitches. I talked with Dr. Gorbutt and thanked her over and over again for the remarkable job she and Dr. Blake did with Ellie Mae’s surgery. Everyone at Greylock Animal Hospital fell in love with her because she was so friendly despite all she had been through. That visit I spent 45 minutes petting and watching Elinor, who was heavily sedated. As long as I was stroking her, she never stopped purring. I looked into her face and kissed her when I left that evening.
During other visits, I continued to see improvement. On Tuesday evening, Dr. Gorbut beamed as she said that in the morning Elinor got up and actually did a full body stretch, which was such a positive sign. When Dr. Gorbutt coaxed Elinor to get up and move on the floor, I was so amazed to see a cat with no extra skin or a poach hanging from her stomach.
On Monday, I picked Elinor up to bring her back to her “home,” my office. In thinking about all Elinor has been through, I really believe she has let go of most of her baggage, physically and mentally. I’ve thought about her the past 6 months living in my office and watched her blossom. I kept thinking about all of the cats I’ve helped in my office, thanks to John allowing me to do so. Elinor is the only cat who won’t venture out of the office when we leave the door open. The only times she goes in the hallways is first thing in the morning when I come in and just a few people are here, and then again at night, during her supper time. I wondered if this was because she was so uncomfortable walking or perhaps it relates to her experiencing love and then becoming an outcast in her previous home. I really think that Elinor doesn’t leave the office because she feels so loved and is afraid if she wanders too far she will once again be cast aside.
As I write this article, Elinor is now safely recovering in my office. She sleeps a lot but overall is very content to be “back home.” She has over 100 stitches in her body that will need to be removed around August 27. She currently weighs a little over 17 pounds.
As you can probably tell by this article, I love Ellie Mae so much. I am proud of her all accomplishments, which came about because of the love, commitment, and true compassion of everyone at BHS. And I am so very proud of her new physical body because of Dr. Gorbutt, Dr. Blake and all the other staff who tenderly cared for Ellie during her surgery and recovery period at Greylock Animal Hospital. This was not a cosmetic surgery; this was a surgery that was necessary to help Elinor live a normal life.
It will take time for Elinor to completely heal from this intensive surgery, but everyone at BHS is watching her carefully. When she’s awake, she does walk around the office, stretch on the scratching post and do casual stretches, all of which she could never do before. We talk to each other during the day when she wakes up and looks at me. She has a lot to say, and I think if she could talk she would thank BHS for believing in her when she didn’t believe in herself. She would thank everyone for cleaning her up and helping her to come as far as she has. She would also thank the vets, for although the surgery was difficult, once she heals she will feel great!
When I think about the perfect home for Ellie Mae, it would be a home where she could live the rest of her life without any fear of being tossed aside again, a home where Elinor will never see a basement, a home where there are windows she could safely look out, a home where she will not be put outside, a home where she will be someone’s world, a home where she will be loved and brushed, and a home that would continue to care for her the way that everyone at BHS has cared for her.
Although all of the pets surrendered have their own sad stories, Elinor once knew and enjoyed love before experiencing the pains of being cast aside with only little human interaction for the past 2 years. Perhaps Elinor’s family thought that by giving her all the food she could eat would make up for her living in the basement. All I know is that Elinor does not want to be alone. Elinor wants and needs the companionship of people who will truly love her like we all do at the shelter. Elinor also NEEDS a family who will understand that she has to remain on a strict diet or she could quickly gain back all the weight she had before. We don’t want that to ever happen to this beautiful cat again. Plus what I’ve found with Elinor is that she can and will pass up food for attention. So if someone feels bad about her limited diet, just give her lots of love and attention, and she’ll be just as happy as if she had food and/or treats.
I guess I’ve talked long enough about Elinor. All I can say now is that it will be extremely difficult for me to let her go. But because I love her so much, I have to love her enough to let her go and start her new life. It will be bittersweet for me as I’m so attached to Elinor and love looking to my left and seeing her peacefully sleeping in her bed with no worries or fear, completely relaxed and loved. As I’ve said many times, her new family will have to walk on water (hehehe…only kidding!) Her new family is out there, and they will find her. I really think Elinor deserves to be the only kitty in the house because she has been through so much.
So that’s Elinor’s story….she’s just an amazing cat that has been through so much and deserves nothing but the best!
*Elinor is also known as Eleanor, Ellie Mae, and Ellie!