It seems to be a rite of passage for any veterinary professional to have many pets... and with 3 rescue cats our veterinary nurse Nicola is no different!
I'm Nicola and I’m a veterinary nurse at Vets Now Sheffield.
It seems to be a rite of passage for any veterinary professional to have many pets, usually those picked up at work, or rescued from a sanctuary… and my story is no different!
Creole was being looked after by Cats Protection League, he was only 6 months old when he was abandoned. I fell in love with him the first time I met him…and decided to give him a forever home. He didn't settle too well at first, following me from room to room, meowing lots. I presumed he was lonely as previously he lived with another cat, and of course was in a group at the rescue centre.
About 4 months after getting Creole, a white ball of fluff was brought into work by a member of public who found him trapped in barbed wire with a terrible gaping wound. He was immediately operated on, however his breathing stopped and his heartbeat became dangerously slow. We gave him adrenaline and reversed the sedation whilst the anaesthetist breathed for him and massaged his heart. He came very close to dying, but thankfully our quick actions brought Vegas back, his heart rate increased to normal levels and he began breathing unaided. What a near miss!
He had no chip, no collar, and no owner came forward for him, as we had no way of tracing his owner I decided to take him home on a trial basis. This was my first taste of trying to integrate two cats together. I followed the text book routine for introducing cats, keeping them in separate rooms, and getting them used to each other’s scents. After a few days I decided to see how they were together. Creole wasn't sure of this small creature at first, he was hissing and spitting at him. Vegas was still quite young, decided that he didn't care about these warnings and kept pouncing on Creole and encouraging him to play 'chase'. It was only a few weeks later when I found them snuggled and curled up together sleeping. This is a regular occurrence now, Firm friends.
Last winter I became aware of a stray black and white cat on our street. I live on a fairly busy road, with cars speeding up and down 24/7, so he was regularly dicing with danger. I noticed he was drinking out of street puddles and generally hanging around, he always seemed to emerge from our neighbour’s trailer whenever I came home from work, or left the house... he always seemed to be nearby whenever we were there, so we figured that’s where he was living.
I know you are not supposed to feed stray cats but Jack seemed quite distressed, he was absolutely ravenousness… so we gave him some cat food, while he was eating I could see he was very underweight, his fur was very matted and there was evidence of fleas. He was quite nervous but would allow head stroking. He didn't have any collar so I asked my neighbours but no one knew who owned him. I decided to place a paper collar around his neck with my name and number on, with a request to contact me if the cat was owned. We continued to see the cat around the neighbourhood, and he frequently visited us whenever we were around, again often emerging from the same trailer in a nearby neighbour’s garden. Over two weeks the collar remained but gradually became more battered, no one had contacted me, so it was clear no one was looking after him.
When the winter weather started to take a turn for the worse, the poor cat was regularly wet through and cold, so we decided to take action. On advice from cats protection league, we determined he wasn't chipped, and got him on their waiting list to be re-homed. They couldn't provide immediate shelter, because their kennels were full and black cats (for some reason) are unpopular, it seemed like it would takes ages to get him a home.
In the meantime I provided him temporary shelter in an outside shed, I took him to work to be checked over, there was no sign of a flea infestation, and blood tests showed no nasty illnesses such as FIV/FeLV. He was still not neutered, but the Cats Protection League kindly provided a voucher, to get him castrated. Whilst I had him at work I paid to get him vaccinated, clipped the mats from his fur and started him on a parasite treatment regime.
As we'd been seeing him around regularly, we'd nicknamed him Black Jack, that name stuck so we carried on calling him that… having been on the mean streets, he is quite feisty, and a bit of a handful, he is a bit of a 'Jack the Lad'. He clearly had no training and was quite fearful, so we had to teach him that grooming was nice (he used to flinch like he was going to get beaten). We've employed a combination of positive/negative reinforcement, (treats + praise or a quick spray of water)… to deter unwanted behaviour, and to encourage good behaviour. This way we've managed to get him to use a scratching post. We are currently working on a plan we found on the internet where we wait until he stops meowing and sits down before giving him a treat... to teach him that he doesn't get fed by meowing so much, we are starting to see some good results from this strategy.
We never intended on keeping Black Jack, but several months later we haven't had any luck finding him a new home, so recently we decided to embark on a plan to introduce Jack to the other cats, and bring him into the house full time. Again we followed a guide on the internet, and introduced the boys gradually exchanging scents at first, then eventually, feeding them behind closed doors, to eventually letting them see each other whilst feeding with nice tinned salmon so they associate a positive treat with meeting a new cat… we started with short windows of 10 minutes a time, and gradually increased over two week stints to get to a point where they could spend an hour together. We worked on one cat at a time, introducing Jack to Vegas first, when they became friends we then followed the same steps to introduce Jack to Creole. Creole was very unsure of this new usurper but Vegas just wanted to play chase!
The cats have a lot of enrichment, special shelving to allow them to be up high, scratch posts and multiple litter trays, food and water bowls to prevent conflicts. For the most part they coexist well together peacefully.
We jokingly call Creole 'Columbo' or 'Foreman', he is always investigating, he does the rounds, and keeps the other cats in check. Even though he is a similar age to the other two cats he does act older than his years ensuring the other two are behaving. His favourite game is 'killing' string, even from a seemingly deep slumber he can always be lured into spontaneous and often acrobatic playtime if you have some string!
Vegas role in the group is to illicit play and find food. He is obsessed with anything he can find to eat, so I do have to been on my guard. Any item of food, or object that has had food on or in it and he will try to consume! He loves to play 'fetch' with a ball (exactly like a dog, I throw the ball and he brings it to my feet).
Jack is fairly new to the group, so he's yet to truly find his place, but for now he is firm friends Vegas and they spend most evenings playing together, either chase, or tapping each other through a partially closed door.
Due to my local environment being near a busy road, I've chosen to keep all my cats indoors, despite Jack previously being a stray, he has actually accepted this surprisingly easy. All the boys are neutered which I believe goes a long way to promoting harmony, but also means the cats do not smell so much. I believe in feeding them good quality premium food, you can really see the difference in their coats… especially Jack's coat which has completely transformed in a short space of time.
Nicola Wordsworth is a veterinary nurse at our Vets Now Sheffield clinic