Sometimes the best treatment is empathy

As I was sitting on the living room floor in Ms. Pamela’s house, I couldn’t help but feel right at home – and I also couldn’t believe the stories she was telling me about her and her cat, Cuddles.

I was there because Pamela needed our help. She has been a client of ours since 2012, bringing her cats in for vaccinations. However, she recently gave us a call – our hearts fell out from underneath us as she managed to get her sentences out through what seemed like an endless stream of tears – which I can only imagine was the hardest call she ever had to make.

Her cat Cuddles, who she also calls Papi, was in the worst condition she had ever seen, and she was wanting to know how much it would cost to put him to sleep, which is something she never wanted to have to do. Now, before I move further along into the story, I want you to know that these types of calls have happened. Pet owners have come to us in the past when they can’t afford the medical services their pet needs, and they aren’t quite sure what else to do, which is why they consider surrendering their pet or, in this case, want them to not be in pain anymore. 

As a pet owner myself, I couldn’t even imagine having to wrap my head around having to even question this – it has been and always will be my biggest fear. But since I have been a part of this organization, I have realized there are people in our community who love their pets as much as me and don’t deserve to be criticized for not having all of the desirable resources when their heart has always been in the right place. But that is why we are here as an organization – to support these families who don’t know what else to do or who to run to.

Cuddles is only 5 years old and battling diabetes. Pamela was having a hard time being able to afford his insulin and special diabetic cat food and being on the bus line prevented Pamela from taking him to the vet regularly. Because of the average cat’s independent nature, it is hard to interpret how they are actually feeling. And the one question Pamela didn’t want to face came to life – Cuddles was in pain. The voicemail ended with a plea.

“Can someone help me with something? He’s been there before. Please, somebody, call me back…”

He had stopped eating, was hanging his head low and meowing at his mom trying to let her know something was wrong.

We are always here to help, so when we called Pamela back, we already had the intention of doing everything we could to make them both feel better. We set her up with medical assistance and provided her with the special diabetic cat food she was in need of, which she said he loved so much that he dove right into the bag as soon as she opened it. He hadn’t wanted to eat his regular food for a week, and Pamela grew even more worried once he finally ate the diabetic food and wasn’t doing any better.

“He’s making a different kind of noise and is running back and forth, hanging his head down and crying,” she said. “I am scared to give him his insulin.”

The next day, our outreach team transported Cuddles to The Humane Society of Greater Kansas City, where he received tests and insulin to get him back up to par. Before they left, Pamela made sure to send him with his favorite blanket. Once he was ready to be picked up, I tagged along – and this is where I found myself sitting on Ms. Pamela’s floor.

As I got to talking with Pamela, I realized this was more than just a story about our Emergency Medical Fund program. It turns out that Pamela herself also has diabetes, and the two – as cheesy as it sounds – were seamlessly made for each other.

Cuddles came into her life unexpectedly. One of her family members was looking to get another cat after his previous one had passed away. She went with him to Wayside Waifs where they were having a special on kittens. And after not having one for a while, Pamela missed having a cat and didn’t hesitate to bring one home that day. She knew she wanted a black cat with little white socks as paws, but before she even had the chance to see what Cuddles looked like, he had already stolen her heart. He was hiding behind another kitten when he popped his head out and meowed directly at her. That’s when she knew he was the one.

After learning Cuddles had diabetes, she couldn’t help but suddenly feel hopeless. 

“I am miserable,” she said. “And I am struggling already.”

It was already hard enough for Pamela to afford her own insulin while also trying to stay on top of rent, medical expenses and other utilities. And with her lack of reliable transportation, it was almost impossible to get Cuddles to the vet.

At that point, her son told her to get rid of the cat, but she refused. Once her son saw the unparalleled relationship she shared with Cuddles, Pamela giggled as she told me her son started to get jealous because she treats Cuddles better than she does him.

“[Cuddles] is my little-bitty son,” she said. 

She told us a medical professional said it was ok to give Cuddles a smaller dose of human insulin. For Pamela, that was the perfect solution because she recently developed an allergy to an insulin she’d been taking and had to switch, leaving the old supply enough to be able to take care of Cuddles. The human insulin, along with the food she had been giving him, worked for a little bit, but not for long. He stopped eating, lost weight and kept meowing at his mom to tell her something was wrong.

When she found out how high Cuddles blood sugar was, she said, “That’s terrible, Cuddles! Mine has never been that high.”

Even with Cuddles having diabetes, he somehow still managed to save his mom’s life three times. He knew exactly when Pamela’s blood sugar was too high or too low and would jump on her bed, nudge her and meow loudly trying to wake her up. She thought maybe something was wrong with him because he had never done that before, but then she looked down to notice her blood sugar was at 30 – and he did that another time when it was at 54.

She paused for a moment during the conversation and then told me that during that moment, she kept wondering one thing.

“You’re sick, [Cuddles]. Why are you trying to help me? 

And that is when I knew. The power that pets have in our lives is truly inexplicable. We think we are the ones who need to care for them when in reality, they undoubtedly take care for us, too.

The two are doing more than well. Like always, Cuddles never wants to leave his mom’s side, and he comes running to her when he knows it is time for his insulin. She will have follow-up appointments for him at HSGKC, and there is no doubt that the two will continue looking after one another – just like they were made to do. In this case, insulin may have saved Cuddles’ life, but the empathy these two share could beg to differ.

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