CATNIP was inspired by and is dedicated to Peggy’s cat Maui who lived to show us all the brain CAN be rewired and healing IS possible.
One Paw at a Time
by Peggy Arndt
Maui was part Siamese and lived up to the breed’s reputation of being intelligent, playful, social and quite mischievous. He loved to eat and jump after toys, jumping incredibly high, twisting in the air like an acrobat.
What Maui loved most was fresh running water. Every day he jumped onto the sink, expecting me to turn on the faucet so he could drink.
I named him for the jokester god of the Hawaiian islands. What happened to him was no joke.
When Maui was 11 years old, he had a blocked ureter. The treating vet told me Maui would not live. I brought him home and helplessly watched Maui do nothing but lay on the floor with his chin on his favorite water bowl. He didn’t eat for days and his back legs were weak.
One day Maui couldn’t move his back legs at all. The vet had neglected to tell me that cats not eating for 3 days or more can lead to heart problems which can result in a clot that blocks the femoral artery. The blockage causes the back legs to not function. A permanent condition.
The vet repeated Maui could die at any time and suggested putting him down. I was distraught.
Hope against hope, I took Maui home and helplessly watched him drag around with his two front legs. I made him a makeshift “fort” with kitchen chairs and stools, constructing it so he wouldn’t get stuck or into trouble when I wasn’t watching. Into this ramshackle enclosure I put everything I thought he needed: food, water, soft pillows, blankets and a litter box. When I added his scratching pad Maui immediately dragged himself over and scratched furiously!
Day in and day out I heard the vet’s pronouncement of death replay over and over in my mind. I dreaded coming home after each outing fearing I would find my beautiful Maui dead.
Several weeks later I woke up to see Maui lying on the floor, next to my bed, in my UPSTAIRS bedroom. How he had climbed the stairs, much less escaped his “fort” dumbfounded me. Once again, Maui lived up to his breed’s reputation of being intelligent . . . and social.
What he needed wasn’t what I put in his “fort”. What he needed was to be with me. Guilt engulfed me. I had been leaving him every night, downstairs, alone.
Guilt drove my vow to bring Maui upstairs at night. He had figured out how to go up the stairs and I figured he would know how to go down. True to his breed, Maui was ingenuous. He pulled his body down the first top stair using two front feet and then flopped his entire body onto the stair below. Maui repeated his pull-and-flop-maneuver, until he was all the way down to the bottom.
Although I could carry him upstairs, I hoped if he climbed on his own, he would get stronger. Every night I carried him part way up the stairs, and let him struggle on his own to the top. Each day it got easier and easier for him and he started to use part of his back legs. Maui, I prayed, would prove the vet wrong.
Slowly, very slowly, he started walking, although one hind paw was twisted backwards. The more he walked, the more the twisted foot slowly moved into a normal position.
Maui never stopped trying to do the things he had always done. Slowly he made progress. After a while, he was able to jump onto the couch, then run and lastly climb. It took him a year for his final accomplishment – jumping onto the bathroom counter to drink the cool running water from the faucet.
For me this was the biggest jump Maui ever made in the year he spent retraining his brain to communicate with his body.
Maui lived until he was 14 – always intelligent, playful, social and mischievous. Above all, Maui was persistent. He taught me first hand about the resiliency and plasticity of the brain, and how with patience the brain can be retrained . . . and the paws will follow.