A spoiled dog ... and a forgotten cat

Help pet owners who don’t bring their cats to the veterinarian by asking about them.
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May 20, 2013

Chiquita is a dog that lives in a New York City high-rise. His owner, Madge, is hovering around 90-something. She cheerily shows off her pup’s little tricks to anyone who happens to visit her home.

Her favorite is when Chiquita “sits pretty” for a treat. He also rolls over and barks—sometimes on cue but mostly, like many Chihuahua-type dogs, whenever the spirit moves him.

Their bond is palpable, and Madge knows it. “If anything happened to my little Chiquita, I don’t know what I’d do,” she says.

Chiquita’s social life is pretty much relegated to meeting elderly ladies who sometimes visit and two nieces who live nearby. Chiquita is pee-pad-trained, because Madge can’t navigate very well outdoors when the weather is bad. In good weather, Chiquita gets outside about once or twice a week.

Chiquita not only gets cookies, but he receives homemade delights. With a twinkle in her eyes, Madge says he only gets one cookie a day. You know she’s not quite telling the exact truth about how many cookies her pup gets.

Though money is tight, Chiquita sees the veterinarian annually. While everything appears just fine at first glance, Madge’s home defines several contemporary problems for veterinarians.

For starters, there’s Spot. Not only doesn’t her veterinarian know about Spot, few of Madge’s friends even know she has this cat.

When the doorbell rings, Spot high-tails it to the bedroom and hides under the bed until company leaves.

Madge says, “He’s a cat, so of course he doesn’t want strangers around.” Madge buys into so many old notions like that about cats.

When asked if Spot knows tricks like Chiquita does, Madge roars with laughter, thinking that’s the funniest thing she ever heard. “Cats can’t be trained,” she says, and she begins to launch into stories about barn cats that grew up with her family as a kid in rural Illinois.

While Chiquita visits the veterinarian annually, she can’t remember when her now 14-(or so)year-old cat last saw the veterinarian. And as far as anyone knows, her veterinarian hasn’t asked the simple question, “Have we seen your cat lately?”

Madge continues, “The cat isn’t sick. He’s indoors and is fine. Look, I’ll show you.” She gets up and shuffles into the bedroom. “See, look under the bed.” As if looking at a cat in a darkened room, starring back at you with bright saucer eyes, would suffice as a physical exam.

I have no doubt she loves her cat, who I’m sure is also spoiled by Madge’s standards, but the expectations far differ compared to her beloved Chiquita.

Another issue is that even one glance of the cat wedged under the bed shows Spot is overweight. And Chiquita isn’t exactly svelte either. I gently asked her if the veterinarian said something about her paunchy dog. “Oh, he says that a lot,” she laughs. “I love Chiquita so much, and he has to eat. I think his life is pretty good, don’t you?”

I didn’t answer as I wanted—which is, ‘Of course, you love him. And that’s the point. He’ll likely be around longer and be healthier if you can get some weight off.”

It’s understandable though, looking at this lovely lady who gets “dressed up” daily even if she’s not going anywhere. Having a “real talk” about Chiquita can’t be easy. And since her veterinarian has no idea she even has the cat Spot, obviously impossible to make recommendations for pets no one knows exist.

I feel privileged to have spent time with Madge. Her pets certainly aren’t bad off, not by a long shot. But still they could be better off.