Friday, June 11, 2010

Kittens in the City: A Gritty, Urban Tale of Two Now-Sterile Felines

Meet Emma, my tiny orange lady cat, and the subject of much fuss this week. Emma is all cat, preferring generally not to be touched unless she has specifically granted permission, and probably plotting ways to kill me in my sleep. Because of this, I crave her approval. I melt into a useless puddle of cat lady when she crawls into my lap, and I think practically everything she does is delightful, even when she is in heat, and whoring her way through the living room, propositioning various pieces of furniture. Delight is not, however, inexpensive. In early May, after charging me $350 for two booster shots, a check-up, and a urinalysis, my vet quoted me almost $600 for all the things involved in spaying my delightful tiny girl cat. After drinking a bottle of recovery wine, I determined that that was wildly unacceptable and vowed to find a cheaper way to 'fix' my precious pet.

What I learned is that everything sucks. The Montgomery County Humane Society has a great program, if you adopt your pet from them. If you happen to have adopted your kittens from your (deeply allergic) brother who got them from his ex-girlfriend who got them from... some guy at a tanning salon (?) and are generally unclear as to their origin but knew that they needed a home and you were planning to adopt two kittens anyway... then you are screwed, because the cost of everything falls on you by yourself. For those in these found-cat situations (which, let's be honest, are no less deserving than adopting from the humane society, as long as everyone gets a warm, happy place to call home) MoCo offers an income-based reduced-cost spay/neuter program... which isn't very reduced at all, unless you are so poor you probably can't even afford to feed your pet and so shouldn't actually have one, and also isn't even accepted at the vet office next to the humane society. No good, MoCo. Friends of Animals sells reduced-cost certificates, but they're only honored at three local vets. I put aside my qualms about their PETA-ish / vegan policies, and we did try that, with Emma's brother Henry, and he was successfully neutered, but... the vet's office was in a walk-in basement, and I had to pass through the vet's laundry room to get to Henry afterward, and that was too much for me, so I can't take them back there, regardless of how perfectly fine that vet probably is (and thank you, Mr. Basement Vet, for sterilizing my healthy, happy gentleman cat). And so I finally found the Washington Humane Society, which offers magical $45 spay/neuter services in South-East DC.

This process is intense. To make an appointment, you have to call and leave all pertinent information, and then wait to be called back. And you are only permitted to call once every two weeks. It took a month to get my appointment. On the Monday I was going to make my third bi-weekly phone call, they finally offered me a Wednesday appointment. Now the rules about this are few but strict: Emma was to arrive between 7:30-8:30am, in a carrier, with proof of her feline leukemia vaccine, and be collected between 5-5:45pm, or risk being transported to a local shelter and incurring a fee. Doesn't sound too hard, but, um, it is. I live in Rockville. SE may only be thirty miles away, but in rush hour traffic, that's a suicide mission, and not just because SE is where DC happens to keep most of it's crime and death (if I were tweeting, I'd tag this #bodiesintheriver).

And so, we, my intrepid lady cat and I, set out at 5am, her in a bag, and me with an enormous jug of iced coffee, and a stack of Google Maps, labeled with sticky notes for the phases of our journey... in order to save a giant assload of money. Emma doesn't really like being in a bag. It doesn't seem intrepid at all, really, and it was hard for her to see the Pentagon as we drove past it, so she pooped. I can't really blame her. I missed the exit from 395 onto the SE/SW Freeway, so I wound up in North-East. Bagged the poop at a stop sign, and asked an old man with a dog how to get to South-East. In this way I learned about the way DC streets are organized, which is to say that mostly they are a giant clusterfuck and you should stick to your Google Maps as much as possible, even though Google Maps doesn't realize that 66 West is HOV only if you're exiting the District between 4-6:30pm (April '09), or that Rock Creek Parkway is only open to north-bound traffic between 3:45-6pm (October '09). I digress. Right on K Street, left on 4th, and poof, I'm back in SE. Something else Google doesn't know: L St. doesn't connect between 9th and 10th streets -- it's one way. Which is how I somehow wound up on Pennsylvania Ave and had a heart attack at signs bearing the word "Anacostia." Anyway, Phase 1 of Mission: Spay the Cat ended with Emma and I parked safely in 2-hr parking directly across from the door of the Spay/Neuter Center, a whole hour early. We cuddled, watched passing cars and birds, and listened to NPR. At 7:25am, all the people/pet combos that had been arriving at the center exited their vehicles and clustered around the side door, under the little blue awning. Emma scowled at everyone, including Tang, the big black cat in the leopard print carrier, and both tiny tufted-something rat-dogs who shook and trembled. The center opened about 25 minutes late, which struck all of us waiting as somewhat of a disconnect, given the emphasis on time and the strict rules upon which our appointments had been contingent. Five minutes, one easy form, and a quick check of Emma's proof of vaccines later, and they took her carrier from me. I said goodbye, and she made really big eyes at me, and I broke inside. Sobbed in the car (#catlady).

I got out the Google Map labeled "Phase 2 (vet to work)" and deviated from the route within 10 minutes. I took M Street west and wound up on 12th St, instead of... whatever I was supposed to do. Drove past the Mall, countless monuments, the Metro Center Barnes & Noble, and then magically found Massachusetts Ave., zipped around behind the Cathedral, and parked safely in my assigned spot. Phase 2 was pretty easy.

And then I fretted all fucking day long about Emma, and about what time I should leave work to make sure I got to her on time, without being irresponsible about my job, or just plain crazy. I have anxiety, you see.

I left at 4pm, which isn't actually early -- it's when I'm supposed to leave, but typically I stay until 4:30, to earn time towards my bi-weekly half-day. I retraced my steps back down Mass. and around three traffic circles (you don't scare me, Dupont Circle) and caught 395 S off of New York Avenue (but not before accidentally turning down a one way street after I initially missed the right onto 395, and then almost killing a very angry pedestrian during one of my maneuvers to get back to 395. 395 S to 295 and BAM I was there. This sounds easier than it was. I was fretful and tense. But the girl at WHS was terrific. She gave me a great run-down of the things I'd already read on the website about Emdiggitty's aftercare, and brought me my poor little beastie. I have to say, signing my credit card receipt for $60 (procedure, pills, no-lick collar), knowing it could have been practically $600, put a big damn smile on my face. Emma, of course, scowled and hissed, and understandably so because I'm the bitch responsible for this. She mrrrrrrr'd at me in displeasure from her carrier and then fell asleep for most of the ride. Again, I deviated without meaning to, somehow missing the right I was supposed to take from M onto North Capital Street. I triumphed over adversity, though, magically connecting with the SE/SW Freeway some other way, and then it's all a big Tidal Basin-Kennedy Center-Whitehurst Freeway-Canal Road-Clara Barton blur. I was doing really well, making it all up as I went, until I floundered circa the end of MacArthur Blvd. What I should have done, and I secretly did know this at the time, was stay on Falls Rd, and I would've been home in no time. What I did instead, for some ungodly reason, was turn left onto River Road and proceed to the very end of it, finding myself in Poolsville. Ugh. I let the poor woozy lady our of her carrier, and she cuddled in my lap through the rest of the drive. Unsafe, I know, but I knew where I was by then, and I missed her. An approximation of Wednesday's travels with Emma:

View Catastrophe Wednesday! in a larger map

Once at home, she wobbled and blinked her way around the den, where we'd opted to seclude her. She hissed confusedly at My Guy, probably because she was rightfully in a mood to blame men for all her troubles, though normally she's more likely to seek out his lap than mine. I built her a nest under my desk, and put out small bowls of food and water, and we left her to nap. I feel bad thinking her poor drug-addled hissing and wobbling to be adorable, but it really is. She's never this cuddly, and I'm going to milk it for all it's worth.

A few hours later I went to visit her, and she immediately, if slowly, climbed into my lap and went back to sleep. She's so tiny. It's like somehow her uterus took up most of the space inside her tiny cat body, and now I can see her ribs and I'm wondering whether we should leave her on the kitten food longer than we'd planned, because she needs the extra fat and nutrients. Henry needs diet food. 'Nuff said.

So anyway, quite pleased. Wildly in love with my lady cat, and happy to have had her spayed without needing to live on dirt and ramen for weeks. Yes, it took a month to get an appointment, and yes, all the rules and inflexibility is a little scary. Bottom line: It only cost $45 to have my cat spayed. I opted for the $5 optional pain meds and $10 an Elizabethan collar, in case she starts to lick or chew her stitches, bringing the grand total to $60, which is about ten times cheaper than the vet wanted for the same thing. I am glad she is home, and that we never have to do this again.

Update: It's Friday and Emma is tired, but fine. Out and about, not quite romping yet, but posing a serious threat to my houseplants once again.

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