Monday, September 3, 2012

A Warning for Pet Owning Crafters

Yesterday was the first anniversary of the death of our cat Jack.  It's always sad, even heartbreaking, to lose a beloved pet.  Those of us who share our lives with pets know how much a part of us our furry friends become over years of living together.  But there is a reason I am blogging about Jack's death beyond the normal feelings of loss.  

I'm sharing this with you because Jack died due to my carelessness and as a result of my crafting.

He was a character, mischievious and charming, with long silky fur and golden eyes, and a meow like a squeak toy.  Only 6 years old, he was a rescue kitten we had adopted at the Humane Society when they were trying to make room for pets coming in from areas affected by Hurricane Katrina.  He won our hearts in a matter of days. There was just something about him that made him truly special.  He was especially bonded to my daughter and their love was very deep.

One year ago I was making dresses for my daughter to wear for a ballroom dance competition.  I often spent weekends and evenings working on dresses over the last five years.  Jack liked to watch me and often got in my way, sitting on the material as I cut out the pieces and so on. It could be aggravating, but I loved his company too.

He liked to bite at the thread on my sewing machine. I knew this, and had a habit of removing the thread from the machine and putting it away when I finished for the day, or covering the machine with a towel.  But on this night I walked away from it, intending to return in a few moments, without covering it.  Jack had been watching and playing with everything I was working with.  I left the room, got distracted, and when I returned Jack was on the floor, gagging, pawing at his mouth, with thread winding from the machine across the floor, into his mouth.  Cats can't spit things out.  They just keep swallowing and swallowing.

I held him and pulled on the thread, hoping he hadn't ingested much yet.  The thread caught on a back tooth and broke.  He calmed down, but coughed, and kept coughing.  He wouldn't eat.  When I attempted to look in his mouth to see if I could find the thread, he panicked and freaked out, leaving me with several deep scratches on my chest and hands.  He had never done that before. It was late at night by then.  I hoped it would pass through his system.  

The next morning he was still coughing, still not eating.  I took him to a veterinarian specializing in cats, whom I had just recently starting taking my elderly cat, Misty, to see. After watching him and x-rays that day, she did surgery the following morning to remove the thread.  He had eaten about a yard of it.  

I took him home the next day and spent the day trying to get him to eat and drink.  He moved around a little, but looked very uncomfortable.  I found he was bleeding and called the vet, who seemed overwhelmed and uncertain.  That night I took him to an emergency vet multi-speciality office.  

They sedated and stabilized him overnight, but testing revealed infection setting in.  What happens is that thread acts like a thin razor as it gets pulled tight by contractions of the intestines, making tiny cuts in the soft tissue, and from there bacteria escapes and causes serious infection.  We were told Jack would need more surgery to find and repair the cuts, a transfusion, flushing out of his abdominal cavity, possibly lengthy hospitalization.  And even then, his odds of survival were 50/50.  If he did live, he could be sickly for the rest of his life. And it would cost upwards of 5000 dollars.  We had already charged $3000 for his care over the last four days that we could not afford.  

To say this was staggering is a vast understatement. I was desperate with grief and guilt, desperate to save him.  My family gathered, and after heart wrenching discussion, we knew we could not put him through more suffering, and we could not financially cripple our family any further.  We all took turns holding him and trying to say goodbye.  It was one of the hardest things we have experienced.  We still miss him very much.  I still struggle to forgive myself for having failed him so completely, and caused my daughter, and all of us, such an unnecessary and traumatic loss. 

All I can do, to somehow create some redeeming element to what happened, is to tell the story with the hope that other families, other artists, others who sew and craft, will better understand the dangers of such things to our pets, and will take the steps necessary to protect them.  Pets don't know what can happen to them, only we do.  I was told by the vets that many dogs and cats suffer the same fate as Jack did, due to thread, Easter grass, string, fishing line, yarn, and other similar materials.  

If this does happen to your pet, please rush it to a veterinary practice that does emergency care, one that can do endoscopy if at all possible.  Only immediate care can remove the thread before it enters the intestines and thereby prevent the internal cutting and infection.  It's costly, but far less than major surgery.  If I had acted immediately, the outcome could have been very different.  I made poor choices that only made a bad situation into a deadly one.  I wish I had done so many things differently.

I wish you and your furbabies long happy lives together.  Please take care of them.



  1. How sad... this is a good reminder, especially if I ever get a cat. My old dog is content to just lay next to me. He doesn't pay any attention to the crafting going on or supplies.

  2. Oooh, that is so terrible, Penny. That must be an awful thing to come to terms with. But you did everything you could, to the best of your knowledge and circumstances. I know it does not help too much, and you will still be feeling guilty anyhow, but it is true.
    I know that I struggled for a long time with the fact that I had to give my cats away, because of very severe allergies. I know one of them found a home that she was very happy in and quite possibly was even better off than with me. But the other one I had to bring to a shelter and I am still thinking about her very often... guiltily...
    So very sad...
    Take care!

  3. Thanks for your kind support. I appreciate it very much.


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