The Dreaded Vet Visit

I gave Shanti a new name - Solène - as a way to mark her new start. I'm from Canada and French is our second language there (though I speak it poorly), so I gave her a French name that means "solemn".

Solène put up quite the fight when I came to pick her up after adopting her, so I knew I was going to have a challenge on my hands.

In the few days after bringing her home, I had made some attempts to get to know her better. When she squeezed under my couch in an effort to avoid me, my attempts to pet her (while speaking gently and calmly) earned me a quick bite on the finger. Cat Whisperer I'm not!

I wasn't sure of Solène's medical history so I knew she needed a full workup. Based on a recommendation, I made an appointment with the Chung Wha Animal Hospital in Itaewon, Seoul. Specifically, I wanted documents in English so when I eventually take her back home to Canada, I could avoid having her put through the trauma of quarantine.

When I phoned, I was advised that the examination and tests would take 3-4 hours - a length of time which was surprising to me but understandable given that Solène was a shelter cat and I knew nothing of her history.

I was also secretly hoping I wouldn't have to come back for a long while given Solène's anti-carrier and no-touching stances.

Bearing in mind that Solène had already bitten me and fought attempts to be put in the carrier, I committed to getting up at the crack of dawn to ensure getting her into her carrier in a timely fashion before making the trek to Seoul. Solène's hiding place of choice was the couch in my apartment. The couch has about a 5-6 inch gap that she squeezed under. Little did she know, that the couch separates into two pieces and is easily movable. The moment the couch moved, Solène tried following it, scootching underneath. But after realizing the futility of it, took off running, trying to find a place to hide in my small apartment.

She succeeded in cornering herself in the bathroom. Add to her frustration, there was nowhere to climb up and she slipped and slid against the white, slippery walls. Solène then made a vain attempt to hide in between my plastic Daiso shelves holding my shampoo bottles. I closed her in and rushed upstairs to grab the carrier, determined to win the day. I placed the carrier in the bathroom and Solène hissed when she saw it.

Okay, I thought. Time to arm myself. Where are my thick, winter gloves?

I marched back to the bathroom and... Solène had entered the carrier, all on her own. This was her only refuge in my big, white, slippery bathroom.

Once in the carrier, she seemed completely at peace. Solène never once made a sound. As I made the journey on the train, occasionally someone would poke their head down, trying to steal a glimpse of her. But my little chameleon ignored them all.

When I left her at the vet's in Itaewon, I did so with a warning. "She bites," I told the vet. "I'm new to her and this is a very scary time for her."

He mentioned they might have to sedate her to do everything they needed - including cut her long claws. Was I willing to incur the extra cost?

"Of course," I said. I gave Solène a cheerful little wave and said goodbye in a gentle soothing voice. She would have none of it.

Fast forward 4 hours later.

The vets sits me down. He tells me she's in relatively good health. Relative except her sugar is a bit high "No more dry food," he advises "go for wet food." At least she's a good eater, I think, though a bit on the chunky side - about 4.7 kg - so some exercise is in order. And then finally, the other shoe drops.

"She only has four toes on her front paws. She should have five."

I blink. "Wait - what?"

"Cats have five toes on the front, four in the back. She's also missing pads on her front paws. She only has three on each of her front paws." He showed me. Solène's pads had grown strangely onto her paws - there was no uniformity to them like there would be in a normal cat. My poor Solène had malformed front paws - probably born that way since both front paws were affected. But then, he dropped another bombshell.

"The claws on her front paws have grown crooked - she can't retract them properly."

Now I understood why she was always going click-clack on my floors - not necessarily because of long claws, but unretractable long claws.

"Is it hurting her? Do I need to declaw her front paws?" I asked him nervously. I had always been anti-declawing because the whole process has been seen as completely psychologically traumatic for cats and unfair in taking away their ability to defend themselves. The vet reassured me she was fine.

Before leaving, he instructed me to give her deworming medication once per month. And as he started to demonstrate how to do so, Solène gave him a good bite. She didn't draw blood, but he shook his injured hand warily.

"That's strange," he said. "Cats usually swipe with their paws first before biting."

Enter the "lightbulb moment".

"It's because of her paws," I mused aloud. "If her claws are crooked, she probably doesn't know how to use them properly. That's why she bites instead."

I began to recall how I'd seen her whenever she was sitting or reclining. Her paws were always cradled in a funny way toward her. I now began to realize why.

The vet handed me all my documents. He then advised me she would need three more rounds of shots, one each month for three months. I grimaced a little inwardly. So much for not seeing the vet for awhile. I would need to find a vet close to home for those visits, I thought. It's a long way to Seoul from Gyeryong for a kitty that doesn't like carriers.

"We're going home Solène."

She said nothing. Not even a "Thank goodness!" meow.

I sighed.

"We'll work on your communication skills later."

Tags: aggression, cat health, adoption


Karen's picture

Solène is so lucky to have found someone who has the patience and love to understand her!

Megan2024's picture

Aww this is such a good story!

dbis's picture

Kathy, THANK YOU SO MUCH for your time, patience and commitment you have with Solène. Your love and understanding for her is wonderful to hear! Very interesting to hear her health status after coming out of the shelter too. I hope she continues to go from strength to strength; keep us posted of her development!

annemariew's picture

Great story! And Solene IS very lucky to have you. Can't wait to read your next installment :)