Donor kitty living on borrowed time

Practice manager Jim Thompson cuddles curmudgeonly (lately) Pekoe

Pekoe the orange tabby is definitely on the last of his nine lives – and holding.

He was rescued as a tiny, 12-week-old kitten suffering from a blocked urethra. He couldn’t pee. Urine was draining between the muscle layers in his leg – as painful and as serious as it sounds.

Fortunately for Pekoe, his new home was with Cloverdale’s Jim and Dr. Susan Thompson. Susan is a veterinarian who performed an initial surgery to alleviate the blockage, plus several follow-up reconstructive surgeries requiring lengthy recoveries – all before he even turned six months.

The feisty, (mostly) friendly marmalade cat has suffered more than most cats, with nary a growl or a grumble. Instead, Pekoe prefers to grin and bear it. “He’s a tough kitty,” says Jim.

More recently, he’s endured the rigors of the show ring, winning mostly thirds, fourths and fifths, but also the title of grand quad champion, racking up 4,000 points. Winners enter the ring up to 18 times in one day – stressful for cats “who don’t function on stress” and their owners.

“You better keep your beauty queen smile on all the time. You’ve got to have a really good attitude. He didn’t have a problem with any of it,” Jim says. That’s what makes Pekoe a good show cat. “He has the strength and personality to handle all that.”

Pekoe, now 14, was originally the Thompson’s house cat, but they were never able to really correct a penchant for urinating in inappropriate locations, despite the success of his reconstruction.

“He just chooses to do it,” sighs Jim, practice manager of Cats at Home, a local cat hospital the Thompsons set up in 2000, when Pekoe moved into the office full-time.

Pekoe’s job is to mingle with clients in the waiting room. But it’s not all  snorgles on inviting laps and purr-inducing scratches behind the ears.

He’s got a more serious function. Several times a year, when a patient has suffered a violent trauma or is in an acute medical emergency (think car accidents or perforated gastric ulcers), Pekoe donates blood.

A blood bank isn’t cost-effective or necessary for a practice of this size.

“It’s not a common thing for us. It’s easier for us to take a vial of blood.”

No more than 60 mls is drawn from Pekoe, who makes his home in a cage separating the operating room from the waiting room.

If more is needed, another donor cat is pressed into service.

Cats have blood types, A, B, or the very rare AB.

About 95 per cent of North American cats are blood type A, like Pekoe, which makes him a good match most of the time.

People with cats with type B blood need to make sure they know where to get a transfusion should it be needed, advises Jim.

Pekoe was already nearing the end of his days as a donor kitty when he underwent a routine checkup in January.

Dr. Thompson felt a lump on Pekoe’s abdomen, a lymphoma wrapped around his intestines.

Suddenly, the cat who’d given a new lease on life to so many others was facing a health crisis of his own.

After the tumour was removed, Pekoe underwent several rounds of chemotherapy. The latest one was the kind that knocks out the immune system. As a result, he spiked a fever of 42, well over normal. It was touch and go. Remarkably, a few days later, Pekoe was feeling grouchy, but well enough to rove around the clinic for a bit.

Most clients don’t opt for the kind of top notch cancer care Pekoe is getting.  It’s very expensive.

But in turn, what is learned from his care will help Dr. Thompson and the staff help other cats down the road.

Meanwhile, a new Cats at Home mascot has been installed in the waiting room. His name is Nicholas, a grey shorthair with aquamarine eyes who’s also a rescue  cat.

For now, Pekoe’s friends and family are hoping for the best but the future is uncertain, Jim says.

“He’s on borrowed time now, because if we hadn’t taken that tumour out, he would have gone.”

– Update: Pekoe’s latest ultrasound shows he’s in remission; he’s up for more chemo, but it’s (cautiously) good news.