Dear little Puff died suddenly this evening in our vet clinic in Helena. Puff had come to us two years ago as a tiny, sickly 4-week old kitten. She had been dumped by the I-90 frontage road near Drummond, Montana. The woman who called us about her said that if we couldn't take her, one of her relatives would shoot the kitten when he came back from an out-of-town trip. Ninety minutes later the woman arrived at the ranch.
Puff had the worst upper respiratory infection we'd ever seen. She could barely breathe. Her eyes were sealed shut, and her eyelids were filled with pus.
We didn't know if the kitten would survive, but we were certain she'd lose her eyes. Thanks to some incredible veterinary care by our primary care vet, Dr. Brenda Culver, Puff not only lived but kept her eyes, too. She was in the hospital for two long months while Brenda did multiple eye surgeries to preserve her vision. Puff's eyes were so bad that Brenda initially had to slit the eyelids to drain all the pus out. But the intensive care paid off, and Puff finally came home to the ranch. We never really considered her disabled because she could see, but she ended up living in the cat house with the rest of the gang.
She continued to have repeated bouts of upper respiratory infections, and her eyes were always goopy, so we had to wash her face every day. Puff's breathing stayed a bit raspy. Her left eye remained a problem because the eyelid kept trying to adhere to the surface of the cornea. So tissue would eventually creep out across the eyeball and attach to the cornea. Thus every few months we'd take her back to the clinic so Brenda could "clean up" the eye and remove the new growth of tissue.
That's why I took her back to the clinic earlier this week (the same day I picked up Tibby and Fibby.) It was time for another of her routine eye surgeries.
I was out at the barns this evening at 6:15 when Brenda called and left a voicemail, asking us to call. She didn't say why, but I could tell from her voice that someone had died. I've known Brenda for many years and she's been through a lot of heartache with us, and I knew right away something terrible had happened. We have three animals currently at the clinic -- blind and deaf Blanca the Great Dane puppy, our old girl, blind Kenai, and Puff -- and the only thought that raced through my mind was, "Which one? How?" I called Brenda right back. She was, understandably, very upset when she told me what happened.
Puff's pre-anesthetic blood work was perfect. Her surgery had gone fine, just like the many others we had done. The anesthesia, the drugs, the protocols ... everything was the same as before. All the monitoring systems during the operation had shown perfectly normal vital signs. Puff was actually in recovery -- lying in Brenda's lap, in fact -- when Brenda noticed Puff had just skipped a breath. She pulled out her stethoscope to listen to Puff's heart and discovered her heart rate had just plummeted. And then, it stopped.
Brenda and her vet techs tried to resuscitate her, but to no avail. Brenda was, of course, distraught and stunned. This was a cat that medically she knew as well as any animal she had ever treated. This was routine surgery, performed nearly a dozen times before.
So Brenda is doing a post-mortem tonight and she will also send tissue samples to a pathologist. Between the necropsy that Brenda is conducting and what the pathologist finds, we should have a pretty good idea of why Puff died.
The photo of Puff was taken in June by Dawn Norris, a photographer from Boston who spent several days at the ranch photographing the animals. Puff was always, in our mind, a kitten. She was tiny, playful, and had an adorable, affectionate, kitten-like demeanor. Whenever you picked her up, she'd purr and purr. She was the sweetest little cat you could imagine.
Goodbye, little Puff. We'll miss you.
(Click on photo for larger image.)