Sunday, August 31, 2014

Smitty's Tale (In the Category of Want What You Have...Had.)

Attention comrades of the #wlf and all anipals. It is with the leakiest eyes that I must tell you that our sweet Smitty Kitty (@IAmSmittyKitty) has gone over the rainbow bridge. If you are reading this, Smitty was a pal to you, and this must be a shock. It all seems very sudden; hopefully this blog post will make things more clear. If you tweeted with Smitty, you know he was all heart. This was true in more ways than one.

At the beginning of May of 2013, Smitty developed a little cough. We were concerned that he may have had a chest cold or allergies so we took him to our regular vet for a check up and chest x-ray. The x-ray revealed that Smitty actually suffered from cardiomyopathy, a heart condition that results in an enlarged heart. It’s a genetic condition that can strike a cat at any age from 3 months to 10 years, although it is far more common in older cats. Smitty had just turned two. Our vet referred us to the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg, Virginia, or as we call it around here, the Vet Med College. We are blessed to live in the area; many devoted anipal staff drive for hours to bring their pets here.

An echocardiogram confirmed what the chest x-ray showed. Smitty’s heart had an advanced case of heart disease. The entire left side of his heart wasn’t working at all. Quantity of life was no longer an option. Quality of life was all we could shoot for. The note they sent us home with concluded that Smitty could die at any moment. Needless to say, it was a very dark day.

Please forgive us if we decided not to tell the pals on Twitter what was going on. Smitty didn’t realize he was sick, you see. We didn’t have the heart to tell him. We just let him be sweet, happy, silly Smitty.

Smitty was born to a mama cat that was either feral or homeless. Blacksburg, Virginia is a college town, and as such, it has a problem with irresponsible college students who adopt cats that they cannot afford to spay or neuter and then graduate or return home for the summer and abandon their “college” pet. Smitty’s mama cat taught him how to eat from a trash dumpster, weaned him, and then shunned him at around 12 weeks old. Smitty, ever a willful lad, decided he didn’t like to be alone, so he sat beside the dumpster mewing loudly for days until the girlfriend of the new tenant whose bedroom window was below the dumpster scooped him up and brought him in. (Thanks to Smitty’s song, they had not slept for two nights.) The boyfriend’s apartment did not allow pets, so she took the kitten to her apartment, snapped some adorable pictures of the little guy, and posted them on Facebook: Kitten Needs a Home.

That’s how we met Smitty. His rescuer was a friend of a friend, and that friend shared the photos on her Facebook timeline. I saw them there, and I knew at first sight that I had to play with the kitten. Had. To. I also knew what that meant, so I asked my husband if I could have him. We have an older cat, and I felt a companion kitten would put a bit more spring in her step. Plus, I had to play with the kitten. Had. To.

Admit it! You would have to play with this kitten too. Have. To.

My husband made me promise to take him straight to the vet for shots and a checkup, which I did. In addition to ear mites, Smitty had bad diarrhea, not uncommon, but in his case it was a serious overrun of Clostridium Difficile. The “C-Diff” bacteria can be found in rotten meat and rotten vegetable matter, the sort you would find at the bottom of a trash dumpster. He passed his feline leukemia test though (after a tense 30 minutes...I was already smitten with Smitty, but a positive test result would have ended his life that day). We put him on antibiotics to straighten out the tummy troubles and little Smitty thrived.

His tummy trouble did not immediately stop, though. The weeks of eating dumpster trash had wrecked his GI tract, and he had chronic IBS. We put him on a daily antibiotic. This need for a once-a-day pill resulted in Smitty, at a young age, becoming comfortable with being handled and pilled. His heart condition required more pills to be given, every 12 hours, and this allowed us to keep him medicated and comfortable for much longer than might be expected.

He took a pill to reduce his blood pressure, giving his half-heart a break from having to work so hard. And he took two doses of a diuretic, furosemide, every day, to relieve the build-up of fluid from around his not-so-spunky heart. The coughing stopped, and Smitty seemed to be doing well at first. He winded easily, though, and he quit being able to run for more than a few feet before he had to lie down and catch his breath.

Cats, like humans, can develop tolerances to medicine. Smitty needed to have the furosemide dose increased about every two weeks in order to keep it working properly. By the beginning of August 2013 he had maxed out the dosage he could handle, his breathing rate shot up to 65 breaths per minute, (18-20 is normal) and things looked bad. But then an anipal, @KendallKatz, suggested a different diuretic, torsemide. Kenny’s staff was able to provide a scholarly paper about its use in cats with cardiomyopathy that we sent to Dr. W., Smitty’s cardiologist. She agreed that we should try it, and after only two days, Smitty’s breathing was back to normal; he was running again! He even managed to take out a few birds – one he snatched out of mid-air with both paws! His form was truly restored.

Dr. W. found a pharmaceutical compounding company that would put the torsemide in a liquid suspension with a fish flavor. This allowed us to step up the dosage in very small increments. (And Smitty loved the taste! Meds were now a treat he requested!) But we were all in uncharted waters now. None of us knew how much a little ten pound kitty could tolerate before this new medicine quit working or his kidneys failed. We agreed that kidney failure was a less horrible mode of death than congestive heart failure. Kidney failure allows toxins to build up in the bloodstream, causing lethargy and eventually a coma. Congestive heart failure feels like drowning. One gasps and gasps until the heart quits. (This is true for humans as well as cats.)

Smitty developed a tolerance to torsemide less quickly, and he handled it well. We did not know for how long though, so we set out on a deliberate course to treat each day with Smitty as a gift. Smitty taught us not only to love unconditionally, but to savor literally every second of that love. Feel it, have it, for each precious moment, wallow in it. No eye blink should be taken for granted. Every breath, every sweet sigh can last a lifetime if we let them. Like magic, we made time stand still, for a little while.

We worried for his kidneys. His were young, strong, and healthy, but spending months pissing gallons, and I mean gallons of urine, takes their toll on even the youngest and the strongest. At the beginning of December 2013 we noticed that the amount of urine Smitty produced was starting to flag. Two days later, he stopped eating. He wouldn’t drink voluntarily anymore, either, and Dr. W. told us that was the sign. From there, his condition would deteriorate quickly. We scheduled the appointment to send him over the rainbow bridge (it’s a pretty euphemism). That night, Smitty began to drink again. Two days later, when we thought we would be taking him to be put to sleep, we gleefully cancelled the appointment. We called it a Christmas miracle. Smitty marched on.

In May 2014, we celebrated Smitty’s one-year-diagnosis-iversary with lobster (Smitty loved lobster). The torsemide had changed the game. Smitty’s heart still beat. The sense of sand slipping through an hourglass magnified. Every second of every minute of every day with Smitty became keen and precious. We stayed mindful of the moments. We wanted what we had.

Today, with a heavy heart, I finally finish this post to tell you he has gone. Sweet Smitty Kitty has gone away to a place where he doesn’t hurt anymore. A place where he can run as far and as fast as he wants to without losing his breath. Sadly, it is a place where we cannot follow.

In the true spirit of the comrades of the #wlf, Smitty has a new mission in the 10th Battalion. Smitty will go on to help other kitties with this same heart condition. You see, this heart condition is rarely diagnosed in living cats. Usually, the owners don’t know the cat has an enlarged heart until it just dies suddenly. Smitty’s cough was an unusual side effect of cardiomyopathy, one that vets rarely see in cats (it is relatively common in dogs with this condition). In many ways, we got “lucky” that Smitty coughed. It allowed us to treat the condition, and we got fifteen really great months that we otherwise would not have gotten.

It also allowed Smitty to become a member of an important collaboration that the Vet Med college has with another university in Italy. We have donated his heart to the Vet Med college so that more can be learned about the causes and course of this disease. We have also given them the extensive notes we kept after putting him on torsemide. We hope it will help veterinarians to better treat the condition using torsemide and increase the quality of life for cats with it. In the end, his kidneys did not kill him. We can’t be certain which, but either he threw a clot or his sweet little heart just stopped. We found him at his favorite napping spot in our bedroom. He did not suffer.

As for you, Smitty’s Twitter pals, I am so sorry to have broken your hearts with this news. Please know how much your Twitter friendship means to us. We do not yet know if Smitty will Tweet from OTRB or if Smitty’s Diddy will take up the account and the challenge to help anipals find forever homes and retweet to get help for Smitty’s friends, Lucy Liberte, the elephant and Tony the Tiger, who both need to find better homes than the ones they currently endure. For now, we are just going to try and make it without our “Boo Boo.”

Here are links to some memories of Smitty: (specifically the compilation at the top, and then the vidoes and pictures as you scroll further down).

*pawhugs* from Smitty’s Mama and Diddy.

31 August 2014


  1. What an excellent tribute. I am full of admiration for what you did for Smitty and in return what he did for you. He'll always hold a special place in my heart too x

    1. Loving purrrrs..Removes beret wif da deepest, most loving, repectful purrrrs. #SALUTES! ♡♡♡♡♡

  2. Oh we will miss Smitty - so very much. Thank you for being his Mum and Dad and fighting his corner so very hard,

    We loved Smitty and will miss him

  3. Thank you for taking the time to write this at such an awful time for you Kim. I always knew the Little Guy had a big heart bet never knew quite how big, seeing Smitty's avi in my timeline always cheered my day, I'm so very glad that he found such a wonderful Mama and Diddy.
    Smitty and his family are the true embodiment of the #wlf spirit and I am proud to have known him and to know you.

    Run Free Little Guy.
    Mimmsie @TourettesTabby2, Mona @Kernow_Kitteh, Millie @MilliesSpektre, Scootle @DevonScootle, Morrigan @Morrigan_Kitteh and Doom & Nemesis @DOOMandNEMESIS

  4. Thank you so much for sharing his story with us all. Smitty always made me smile no matter how dark the day was and I will miss him more than I can say. What a special family you are and what an important legacy Smitty leaves for those who follow in his paw prints. I will miss him always and I am proud to be his friend! Love always Jaffa ��

  5. Thank you for the wonderful life you gave to Smitty and taking time to write the moving legacy that Smitty has left. He was one of my very first #wlf Twitter pals who helped me learn the ropes. I feel your emptiness and heartbreak and share your grief. Know that Smitty was loved by all of his comrades and he will be deeply missed. He and you, his family, have given more than you will ever know. I am proud to be his friend. Love, Hugs, and Purrs. ❤Willy❤September 1, 2014 at 8:56 AM

  6. Fank yoo so muches for telling da world wot me already knew...Smitty waz a speshul kitteh dat me and hiz pals will never forgets. Fank yoo for doing all dat waz necessary to helps him haf a pawsum quality of life for az long az possible. Me hopes he able to tweet to us az Angel Smitty coz he still impawtent part of dis community and alwayz will be. Much love to hiz Mama & Diddy. *tight pawhugs* Rusty & Mom

  7. Our condolences to you all. Smitty brought love and light into so many lives. He was a good friend and you loved him so. So long, for now, dear boy. Nik, Rocky & M.

  8. Run free pal l I very spike, fred, ozzie, geogre and beeny

  9. My heart is heavy with sadness as I type this - so sad for all who love Smitty, especially Diddy & Mom. Sending #ComfortingPurrs and ((HUGS)) to Tweeter also - love all of you!

    Smitty choose his family well - you give him the best life! Thank you for sharing your sweet boy with us - all who called him friend have had their lives enriched by that furiendship!

    God Speed Smitty - we'll meet again someday at the RB! *blows a kiss 2 #AngelSmitty* MWAH!

  10. Thanku for sharing this story to us about Smitty.. He always made me smile & yes, he was full of life & always made me laugh.. I will always miss that little guy..

    Your at peace now Smitty.. #Missyou4ever

  11. Thanks for sharing your story about such a precious cat like Smitty and hope he'll help lots more anipals wifyour story xxx

  12. Beautiful words for a special little guy to all of us on Twitter. Thank you and Diddy for sharing your sweet boy with us. Smitty's love and indomitable spirit live on. #WeLoveSmitty

  13. Firstly I want to thank you for sharing Smitty with all of us and for telling us what had happen. I am so very very sorry for you loss. Smitty was and IS such a special boy. I know from my own experience with loss how deeply in your heart you will miss your boy. But, I want to thank you too. Through reading your words I have finally been able to forgive myself. Even after 388 days I have been carrying a guilt inside myself about not finding Abby's HCM sooner. I had convinced myself that if I had been a better Mom and had found the problem sooner ( a diagnosis) that I would have been able to manage her condition. With your words I finally heard what I needed to hear that no matter what I would have done, in the end, the condition would have taken her, and it was beyond my control to do anything about that. I thank you for helping me find a small bit of peace in my long journey and I'm so sorry again about Smitty. Truly. I will keep you in my purr and purrayers.

  14. Kim and Diddy:

    Thank you so much for ensuring that Smitty's death was not in vain by donating his heart to the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. As you note, his heart can help us learn more about the causes and course of cardiomyopathy, better treat the condition and ultimately increase the quality of life for other cats with this disease. Smitty was very lucky to be rescued by such wonderful kitty parents! RIP, Smitty...