DEAD CAT WALKING
© Marcie Fallek, D.V.M., C.V.A.
Never will I forget that balmy afternoon in July of 1999 when Maria entered my Greenwich Village office carrying her dying cat. Muggins, a male tuxedo, was barely alive. Weighing only three and a half pounds, he lay immobile on a homemade stretcher, skin and bones, struggling to breathe, each breath an agony.
My heart caught in my chest as I looked down in shock at the creature. Never had I seen an animal in that kind physical condition and yet still be alive. “What is going on?” I asked Maria. “You told me the cat had chronic kidney failure. There is more to the story!” “Well,” Maria admitted, “he also has lung cancer, but I was afraid that if I told you how bad he was, you wouldn’t see me.” Tears flowed uncontrollably down her cheeks.
All too often, the holistic veterinarian is the last stop before euthanasia. Desperate pet owners make the rounds of specialists, from one veterinary hospital to the next, seeking help for their beloved companions. When everything else has failed, and no conventional doctor can offer them even a glimmer of hope, they call me. There is a saying within the homeopathic community. TEETH. Tried everything else try homeopathy.
How I wish they would come to me earlier! Holistic medicine, particularly homeopathy, my specialty and my passion, can work miracles. However, it is clearly better to treat a pet before they have this sort of extreme pathology.
When I have the good fortune and the immense pleasure of seeing a healthy new puppy or kitten, I advise people of this error. It is a thrill for me to start their new pet on the yellow brick road of good health and longevity. Counseling the clients on how to avoid the pitfalls that can lead to chronic disease is my primary objective at the initial puppy or kitten consult. With proper guidance, I am convinced that dogs should live to at least 16 or 17 years of age, and cats well into their twenties. A mere 30 some odd years ago, when first entering the veterinary profession, I commonly saw dogs 17 or 18 years old and even the early 20s, whilst cats often reached the age of 20 and beyond. I remember one Siamese and a miniature poodle that both reached the age of 27. This is virtually unheard of these days.
The major contributing factors for the diminishing life span, as well as the increase of chronic disease, in my opinion (and in the opinion of most holistic vets), are over-vaccination, the use of conventional drugs, and poor diet. There is a fourth factor that I have found to be just as important, emotional stress and grief.
But back to Muggins. During the initial visit, Maria told me that when Muggins was ten years old, he had been diagnosed with advanced kidney disease. The veterinarian had said there was not much that could be done to treat the condition except to administer daily subcutaneous fluids, which Maria did faithfully. Two years later, although Muggins seemed clinically the same, she decided to take him to a board–certified internist to reassess his kidney function. The specialist performed an ultrasound and after reviewing the results, told Maria that he felt there was no logical explanation to why this cat was alive, as there was no observable architecture left in the cat’s kidneys. The board-certified specialist told her she had better prepare herself for Muggins’ death, as he had no more than two weeks to live. Maria was shocked. Muggins seemed to be doing quite well.
One year later, when Maria left for a vacation in Europe, Muggins was still thriving, despite the specialist’s ominous predictions. Happy and eating, his weight stable, she felt little concern leaving him with his usual cat sitter for the two-week period. Returning home, she found her poor baby had declined drastically. Gaunt and debilitated, each breath was a desperate struggle for air.
This is an example of my fourth major category of disease causation, emotional stress. The situation of an owner going on vacation and leaving her weak or older animal in the trusted care of even a favorite pet sitter or a beloved spouse and coming home to a sick animal is all too common. The animal could develop something as benign as a simple case of cystitis (bladder inflammation), or as dangerous as a case of heart failure. Other examples of stress for a pet are when another animal in the household falls ill or dies, when there is a divorce, when children leave the house for college, amongst others. It must be remembered that we pet owners are our animals’ entire world. They absorb the emotions and energy of the household in which they live. They are not living naturally in the wild, as they should, and so they are susceptible to emotional factors both large and small in our households. The emotion they suffer most from seems to be grief.
Maria took the cat immediately to her veterinarian, who told her that Muggins had heart disease. He insisted she euthanize the cat immediately, as the treatment for cardiac disease, which includes the use of diuretics, would exacerbate the kidney failure and that she would be selfish and cruel to prolong his suffering in attempting to keep him alive with any sort of treatment. The only option, he said, was to put him out of his misery immediately.
Not trusting his diagnosis, and following her intuition, Maria took him to the Animal Medical Center, the most prestigious veterinary hospital in Manhattan. The veterinarians there proceeded to do more diagnostics, determining he had lung cancer. Along with the multiple cancerous masses in his lungs, his chest was filled with fluid. After draining the fluid from his chest, Muggins immediately felt better. They warned her, however, that the prognosis was extremely grim. The veterinarians at the AMC also recommended euthanasia. Maria persisted in spite of the odds in her determination to heal her little boy, returning a second and even a third time to have his chest tapped and the fluid removed, giving Muggins some temporary relief. He remained subdued and quiet, but at least the labored breathing was ameliorated for a while. After the third visit, the veterinarians at the AMC, told her not to return, another tapping would be too dangerous, They refused any more treatment.
In her desperation, Maria sought the help of a holistic veterinarian, looking for alternatives. So that is how she ended up with her dying cat in my Greenwich Village office on that day in July of 1999.
I have witnessed so many miraculous healings with holistic medicine, and with homeopathy in particular, that it is only rarely that I feel the need to tell a client that her animal has a hopeless prognosis. Looking down at that three-pound skeletal frame, gasping for air, only barely conscious, I could not in good conscience encourage this desperate woman to pursue any more treatment, including my own. There had only been a handful of times that I had ever had to recommend euthanasia and this was one of them. It did not feel ethical for me to accept any money, although the bill would have only been a couple of hundred dollars, if I could not at least give this woman a fighting chance to help her beloved pet. But Maria was one determined lady! She loved that cat and was not giving up easily. She told me “He wants to live, I know he does. And he has such a strong spirit. PLEASE let’s try! I owe it to him. I took him out of a sewer in Manhattan as a kitten and he has fought and struggled his whole life to survive, and he has been there for me in every crisis of my life, and now I need to be there for him.” She broke down crying. My heart melted, I knew what she was going through. Anyone that has loved and been loved by a pet understands this grief. Hugging her I said. “Ok Maria, we will try. I will do my best for him.”
Choosing a correct homeopathic remedy in a best-case scenario can seem like a superhuman feat. There are 3,000 remedies and most of them will do nothing if they are incorrect, some may temporarily exacerbate the symptoms, and one or possibly a handful may improve the patient. Case analysis, which entails taking the history of the patient, from infancy to present, encompassing all mental, emotional, and physical symptoms, and from that deciding which remedy to use, necessitates training, experience, intuition, and always the grace of God. Homeopathy is most definitely the safest and gentlest form of medicine, however, when a being is close to death, an aggravation, or temporary exacerbation of a symptom, can most definitely be life threatening. There is no room for error in the worst-case scenario, which was what I was facing at this moment. After working up the ‘case,’ the remedy that came up for Muggins as the most likely to cure, happened to be the remedy that is also occasionally used to accelerate the death process in a dying animal! What a dilemma! When a high potency of Arsenicum album is administered to an animal on the verge of passing, it can facilitate a peaceful and speedy demise. Although this can be very useful for suffering animals, this is exactly what I did not want for Muggins. Frantically I searched my books and my mind for an alternative remedy, but Arsenicum fit the case, and with much trepidation, I had Maria start her cat on the lowest possible dose. With a prayer in my heart, I told Maria how to administer the remedy, to keep a journal, and to call me immediately if anything looked worse. I stressed that we should stay in close communication.
No word from Maria for two weeks. I suspected the worst. Oftentimes when the patient dies, the owner is too distraught to call, consumed with grief. Finally I received a phone call. Maria’s tone was light. Practically holding my breath, I asked how our boy was doing. “Better!” was the response. Unbelievable, thank you God, was my silent reply. “What improvements are you seeing?” I asked her. “Well, he is breathing better, starting to eat on his own, and more alert.” This was definitely incredible news, astonishingly good. However, I knew we were not out of the woods yet. This cat was in end-stage kidney failure, with multiple lung tumors that were causing a large fluid buildup in his chest. This was indeed a step in the right direction, but we needed many more miracles to get this cat to have quality of life, or indeed any life at all. But the first hurdle was overcome successfully. Arsenicum had been the right call! I told her to continue the remedy as long as he was improving, and to check in with me in at least another couple of weeks, assuming all was going well.
At the next phone appointment, all symptoms were continuing to improve, but Maria had a major concern: Muggins was urinating enormous amounts. As this is a classic symptom of kidney disease, it could be cause for alarm. Further questioning revealed, however, that he was not vomiting, his appetite was improving daily, and his stool was not abnormally hard and small, so it seemed that he was not showing any of the other typical keynotes of kidney disease. As it had been weeks that his breathing was regular, and there had been no necessity of a chest tap to remove the fluid, I could only surmise that the body was purging itself of the unwanted fluid in the chest via the kidneys.
At the two month mark, Maria was finally able to bring the cat back to my office for a recheck. I could scarcely believe my eyes. Muggins looked like a totally healthy young cat. His coat was luxuriously shiny, he had regained all his weight, had a sparkle to his eyes and was up to his usual mischief. . Because things had shifted so dramatically, I decided to replace the Arsenicum, with, Phosphorus, a different remedy that now more fit his picture. Homeopathic Phosphorus is not the material doses that could harm kidneys, but rather the energetic form, which actually enhances their functioning. Again, a very low daily dose was selected as I felt the cat, despite outward appearances to the contrary, was still relatively weak.
Maria asked me if possibly his original diagnosis had been wrong. She couldn’t believe that this healthy-looking 14-year-old cat could possibly have this terrible disease, “Just look at him,” she said. I had to agree with her, the cat looked fabulous. It was difficult to imagine he was still sick. However, I knew from experience, that although he looked healthy and normal, without the support of the remedies he would be dead. The cancer was being held in remission by the homeopathic medicines, but sooner or later it would return. Well-chosen remedies, in my experience (and the experience of many other homeopathic veterinarians), are more effective than chemo, radiation, or surgery. Their action is not so much directed at the particular cancer cells, killing them, along with other healthy and very important cells in their wake, as does chemotherapy; rather, homeopathy acts by supporting the immune system, strengthening the body and thereby enabling it to fight off the cancer. There are no side effects from remedies. Instead there is an incredible feeling of well-being, which is inevitable when a proper homeopathic medicine is administered. All organs and systems improve as the remedies work with the vital force or life energy. Clients are always surprised that rather than speaking exclusively about the cancer at rechecks, we are discussing other issues that the animal may have had all their life, including digestive issues, ear infections, lameness, etc. These symptoms also must improve if I am treating the animal properly. I remember so well a 12-year-old Russian Wolfhound I treated for osteosarcoma of the leg. Apart from eliminating the pain and giving the dog six more months of quality life, for the first time in 12 years the dog was able to eat high quality delicious food, without any diarrhea or vomiting. The dog had suffered from inflammatory bowel disease and was forced by the conventional vets to eat canine ID for most of its life. Ivan hated the food, and had only picked at it, eating just enough to stay alive. Now the owner was home cooking real food for him, all sorts of meats and vegetables, and the dog practically inhaled every last morsel!
Muggins’ story was nothing short of a miracle. From that very first day Muggins responded beautifully as the remedies commenced their miraculous work. He never needed another chest tap, and as opposed to the subdued ‘sick’ quality that he had been suffering with following the invasive thoracic procedures, the true ‘Muggins’ was back. He was himself in mind, body and spirit. This is what true healing is all about.
Muggins thrived for six months. The end appeared suddenly and seemingly out of the blue. This situation is very common in my experience with animals under homeopathic care. It oftentimes comes as a shock to the owner, and even to myself. With homeopathy, there is no prolonged and agonizing decline. Very often, the animal is doing wonderfully, and then they just crash. I feel this is because the remedies can support the ‘vital force’ as long as there is something there to work with. Unfortunately, there is no cure for death, and sooner or later, the body has to die. But death under homeopathic care is almost always peaceful. If we do have to die, what a wonderful way to go – quickly and peacefully!
I learned so much from Maria and Muggins. This case stretched the limits in my mind to what degree healing is possible with holistic care.
I try to be realistic with clients regarding expectations. But truly no hope is ‘false.’ Ultimately all healing is from God, and we should never, as doctors, I feel, put a limit on what is possible. The sky is the limit. Thanks to Maria’s love for her cherished Muggins, her tenacity in seeking his healing, along with Muggins’ will to live, I have been able to help hundreds of animals to live longer and happier lives.
Disclaimer: The case histories that I write about are chapters from my upcoming book, and are based on actual animals that I have treated. The names of some clients and patients have been changed to maintain their privacy. The facts are written as accurately as possible, based on my medical notes and phone and/or in-person interviews. Some minor details of setting or other non-medical facts may differ slightly due to lapse of memory after so many years. I apologize in advance for any such errors.
Marcie Fallek, D.V.M., C.V.A.
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