written (over coffee with her gorgeous toddler Cam) by Dr. Lauren Barrow
Here at Parkside Animal Health Center, we love our patients and their human families and feel lucky that they have chosen us to provide medical care for their animals. However, we acknowledge that true health and happiness starts at home.
Dr. Brenda Eisenhauer, our fair leader and head veterinarian, launched a new program in 2017 called “Parkside Pet Heroes” to reward our clients and to ask them to share their insights with the rest of the Parkside family. Last time, we featured Arnie and Sandie Schultz, so be sure to go back and catch that article if you missed it.
This month, I sat down with Donna Jordan, to hear her stories of love, commitment and patience. She sat across from me with her tea and I was struck by her kind eyes and gentle warmth. I had to bring my two-year-old son with me to the interview, and as he proceeded to sit on my lap and smack the table, grabbing at my cup and taking his shoe off to throw it across the room, I felt my patience slip, but Donna just smiled and commented on his cuteness.
So, Donna, I know you have a houseful. Will you tell us who your animals are?
Sure! Kali (pronounced Kay-lee) is a thirteen-year-old rottweiler, Nika is a nearly fourteen-year old Persian cat with a personality disorder. Then there are the kittens…they are littermates, Dharma, Blue, Anya and Keiko. We lost Neela last year…
I’ve met a couple of your cats, I think. You said they are littermates?
(I stop to grab my son, who has scooted halfway across the cafe)
Sorry about that. How did you end up with four littermates?
There was a feral cat who had kittens and then abandoned them beneath my neighbor’s woodpile, back in New York, over eleven years ago. They couldn’t trap mom but I got them as newborns. I was so sleep deprived, feeding all of them every couple of hours, my husband wouldn’t let me talk to anyone, I was so out of it (She laughs) Keiko was the smallest, only four ounces, and our vet at the time didn’t think she was going to make it, so I fed her first and last every time. Now, she’s the healthy one.
What was the biggest medical challenge an animal of yours animal ever faced?
Kali and her atypical Addison’s (hypoadrenocorticism), because she is so sensitive to prednisone. The first sign of illness was unexplained weight loss in 2009. On a hunch, my vet in New York did an ACTH response test that confirmed Addison’s and we started prednisone. The next year she developed calcinosis cutis and they had to cut the steroids way back and now she’s on a very low dose that barely controls it and she has recurrent urinary tract infections.
Kali is a sweetie pie, and probably the one of your animals I’m most familiar with, just because I’ve gotten to see her more often. Her medical history goes back further than that, right?
When she was two years old, she ruptured both ACL (anterior cruciate ligaments) and needed bilateral TPLO surgeries (to fix her knees). She was a very active dog but had to be isolated for a whole year. It set her back socially. I took ownership of a rottweiler very seriously and knew training was important, so we got a trainer to work on it, but she was then diagnosed with Addison’s and couldn’t handle any stress. She was never good with dogs again…the main reason we only have one. She’s great with people, and tolerates the cats.
How did you get her to be okay with all those cats?
Early in Kali’s recovery, I would sleep on the floor with her to keep the cats away. I stayed with her as long as she needed me. It was a tricky time, I read to never ignore a growl, it was a warning that she was afraid or in pain, but during Kali’s recovery, I had to learn to ignore the growl, because Kali needed the treatments even if she didn’t like them.
You really had to learn to be patient…
And confident. Truly confident, not pretend. It was like, “I love you, Kalie, I’m sorry, but this is happening”. Then I could change her bandage or whatever it was she needed.
You saved that dog’s life, many times over.
Kali had a lot of medical problems, but my biggest emotional challenge was when Blue started having seizures. At first it was subtle, just tiny movements we weren’t sure were even there, then it kept getting worse and progressed to grand mal seizures. It was the first time I’ve ever seen an animal have a seizure and it hit me hard. Now Blue is on phenobarb that is controlling the seizures well; he hasn’t had a seizure since starting it.
Do you have trouble medicating him?
He is a good boy. He knows he won’t get fed until he gets his pill, so he waits. I pick him up and turn him on his back, then just give him his pills…two in the morning, one at night. Thank goodness it’s him who needs the meds, if it was Anya, I don’t know what I’d do. Even Nika takes her daily prednisolone, though she grumbles a bit.
Oh…Nika. We know Nika well. Tell me about her.
Nika is a challenge. She was a normal cat but it all changed in one day. Years ago, when she was diagnosed with IBD, I left her at the specialist. When I came to pick her up a few hours later, I heard a scream. I didn’t even know it was her. Ever since then, tazmanian devil. At home, she lets me do whatever, except combing. I can comb around her head okay but if you hear a growl, you know what’s coming. Now, Nika comes in to Parkside every year for a sedated exam, blood work, hair cut vaccines and whatever else she needs. She hates going to the vet, which is troubling as she gets old. I watch her at home and start to sense something is wrong, but the problem is I can’t take her in without sedation.
What do you regret?
Shouldn’t have suffered through “wait and see”
Your next mission, regarding your pets?
Keep them all as healthy and comfortable as long as possible
I know Neela is gone now, but you did wonderful things for her.
Neela was a senior, but we had her for at least ten years, not sure how old she was. We got her from a relative who fed her every time she meowed. By the time I had her, Neela was very overweight. I slowly tapered her food and got her from 20 lbs to 11 lbs in about a year.
Wow! (I paused to pick up my son’s sock, which just sailed across the table). How did you get Neela to lose so much weight?
Well…I was in charge of how much food she got. I gave her a lot of attention and play, then when she started to lose weight, she wanted more activity and play.
She wanted love more than food.
That’s an amazing way to put it. Do you have any words of advice for other pet parents?
Nobody knows my pets like I do. If I’m not paying attention, who is? It’s my responsibility to hear them when they say something to me. I take that seriously. And…it’s the basic stuff…teeth cleaning, regular bloodwork. It alerts you to problems you don’t see because they hide it. Watch them closely. When I see something is wrong, I know it’s already bad. Especially watch them when they’re young and when they’re old. It’s something I probably learned from raising the kittens from newborn: there is no wait and see, it goes straight to crisis.
As we wrapped up our time together, and I picked up the tiny bits of cake pop my son smeared all over the place, Donna helped me throw away our cups and offered to help us to our minivan. We said our goodbyes and I told her again, “You know, Donna, you have done amazing things for your animals. They are lucky to have you.”
She laughed, in her self-deprecating way, and said, “I feel blessed to have them…even Nika”
She waved and walked off, my son and I close behind. My little boy reached up, and with an angelic expression on his face, yanked off my glasses and pitched them to the floor. I picked them up and kissed him on the cheek. “I could use a some of Donna’s patience right now…let’s go home and walk the dogs.”