Cat Tails – Specs, Who Walked Like a Lion


Little Specs was a grey and apricot dilute tortie.  She died on Wednesday, June 21.  The many health issues she came to HTFF with finally caught up with her, but I believe that the time she spent with us since her owner died was happy.  She was tiny and thin, but no one saw her that way; not the volunteers nor the other cats.  She had tremendous spirit and walked among her feline companions bravely – like a lion.

Specs was part of the rescue of 19 cats whose owner requested help from a group similar to HTFF in Riverside.  Mr. Ortner, who took care of all these cats in his home, had received a diagnosis of cancer with little time left to live.  One of his last acts in life was to assure the safety of the cats he had taken care of.  While Mr. Ortner lay in a coma,  the group in Riverside rescued all the cats from his house.  They had utilized social media to put out a call for help to no kill cat groups.  They asked each group if they could take a few of Mr. Ortner’s cats:  HTFF took two, Specs and Midge.  They came to live in the cat room in December 2016.  As with the majority of Mr. Ortner’s cats, Specs and Midge were seniors.  Both were very tiny and we were told by the Riverside group that Specs was 14 and Midge was 13.

Both cats had dental disease and one goal was to get their teeth taken care of.  Midge’s bloodwork came out fine for a dental procedure.  After having 11 teeth removed, she woke up yelling and wouldn’t stop until she got a big bowl of chow.   However, Specs was not eligible for dental surgery.  Besides the fact that she came to us with early kidney disease, Specs’ bloodwork showed that she had an anemic infection.  In late March, Specs started to lose weight.  I took Specs to the vet – I wanted to know what we could do to keep her comfortable.  Was she at the point where she needed intravenous fluids?  What about her diet?  Although we fed her prescription food for her kidney, she was beginning to turn her nose up at it.  She loved kibbles, but eating too many made her mouth hurt.

The vet told me that Specs was not dehydrated and that we could hold off on daily fluids.  As for the anemic infection shown on the blood test Specs had at the dental clinic, she said that normally she would continue with blood tests to try and isolate where the infection was, but warned me that sometimes it could not be located.   Basically, she recommended a fattening up period.  To get Specs eating again I bought some Gerbers’ baby food to start with.  It was ham, a flavor few cats refuse.  I took her home with me to be able to feed her lots of small meals.  By the end of five days, she was eating a different flavor kidney food that appealed to her.  Specs lived for a month upstairs in my spare room.  For ten of those days, Midge joined her after dental surgery so that I could give her the twice daily antibiotics prescribed.

‘I want that bowl of food. Give it to me!’

During the days that Specs lived in the catroom, I heard about and saw many instances of her daring and courage.  And I saw it on a daily basis when she stayed with me.  Specs, unlike Midge, was not talkative.  I am almost sure that until the end, I never heard her voice.   But, oh we saw her!  Specs’ walk was slightly crooked.  Her hips were sharp and bony, and her stride was decidedly askew.  She had a serious, determined little face and she wasn’t interested in fighting with or playing with her brethren.  She didn’t demand the pats that Midge did, although the proper scratch on the side of her neck was appreciated.  Specs was focused – partially on filling her stomach to the point of bursting!  The rest of the time, well, she seemed to always have a mission and place to go.  She did not reveal her mission to me.

About three days after Specs saw the vet and came to my spare room, I walked up to the first level of the townhouse from the garage.  I dumped my stuff on the table and saw some of my cats in the living room.  Then I did a double-take. Between an arm chair and sofa was a miniscule grey cat, who looked even smaller compared to my boys, who were slowly surrounding her with bad intentions.  Specs!  She had managed to get out of the upstairs room and toddle down two flights of stairs.  Kiki, my 2-year old, began to hiss; she ignored him and started to walk past him and the others toward the bookcase.  She never even glanced at the three large males lined up and staring at her.  She reached the bookcase, lay down and stared into space.  What chutzpah!

YUM-M-M! Chow!

Specs gained a pound during the month she was with me; a good amount of weight for the little cat.  She and Midge came back to the catroom.  As before (and at my house) as soon as someone entered the room, you would hear tiny Midge’s megaphone meow.  Specs said nothing, but both would be waiting anxiously to be let out and fed.   When a morning volunteer showed up, everyone crowded to the door of their condo and demanded their freedom – and breakfast.  As they all tumbled out, it would usually be Specs and Midge leading the pack to the ‘lobby’ of the catroom, Midge continuing  to yell for food and silent Specs keeping her eagle eye on every move.  These two had to be fed first, otherwise they would be like kamikaze pilots diving into to everyone else’s food.  Of course, the riot-like atmosphere was my own fault because I let everyone out at once, rather than feeding them in their condos.

Another common Specs behaviour was after breakfast and perhaps a brief nap, she would wander the catroom and visit every condo that was open, including those that were occupied by another feline, who often did not care for Spec’s presence.  Their hissing and/or swats did not deter Specs, who would make a beeline for their plate of kibbles (that she wasn’t allowed to eat).  Sigh…many a time I looked up and thought, “Where is Specs?  Is she out stealing kibbles again?”  And sure enough, I would find her in one of the other condos chomping on another cat’s kibbles.

Two giant tabbies came to live in the catroom.  Under their growling, hissing and hostile attitude, were two sweet and loving cats who had lost their home and were afraid.  They calmed down a bit, but weren’t too fond of any other cat crossing  a border that only they could see.  The female, Illy, is a huge grey tabby.  She was out sitting near Terry, one of our volunteers, when Specs loped by on one of her missions.  Illy hissed and swatted at Specs.  Specs will sometimes ignore aggressive behaviour, but not this time!  She turned around, hissed loudly and stood on her hind legs punching at Illy. Two grey cats in a punching match; one is 18 pounds and the other is 4 pounds.  It didn’t last long  and of course it was the instigator, Illy, who backed down first.  As usual, Spexy play the role of David to another cat’s Goliath.

Life went on in the cat room.  Then on June 20, I noticed that Specs did not finish her breakfast.  I knew she was beginning to dislike the new prescription kidney food, but at the same time she had no interest in stealing anyone else’s food that day.  She took a long nap and about an hour before I was going to leave, she wobbled out to the little lobby and lay down under one of the scratching posts.  A couple of times she spoke, a small meow, which was very unusual.  I put her to bed and hoped she would feel better in the morning. But, when the morning came, Linda, another volunteer, called me from the catroom and said that Specs hadn’t eaten at all.  She was laying in her bed barely breathing – and when she knew a person was nearby, the tiny meows would start again.  I asked Linda to put Specs in the small carrier we had in the catroom and to drop her off at my house.

When Linda arrived with Specs, I called my vet and described her symptoms.  They said to bring her right over and I did.  After the vet examined her, she told me that Specs’ body was shutting down; her temperature was very low and her tiny meows indicated her distress.  It was recommended and I agreed to let Specs go – to make her hang on would only bring her more suffering.  Specs died peacefully with no pain surrounded by the caring vet, technician, and me. We rubbed her head and I held her tiny paw; we did what we thought would comfort us in the same situation.  And I, like many of the HTFF volunteers, had grown to love her.

Goodbye sweet Specs.  We will miss you.