Guest post by Elizabeth Colleran, DVM
Editor’s Note: Shasta Abbey, a Buddist monastery at the foot of Mount Shasta in Northern California, is home to 12 cats, ranging in age from 3 to 18. Read The Cats at Shasta Abbey for more about this very special place.
My friend and great assistant and I are both Buddhists. We help out at Shasta Abbey when we can. It is a way for me to offer my veterinary expertise to the community of abbey cats in the Buddhist tradition of “dana,” which means giving with generosity. We try to make these “housecall visits” twice a year. This time, it had been awhile since we had come to see the cats, and there were changes that we needed to address. Our visit reinforced the benefits of regular check ups for cats of all ages.
For the first time ever, we found ticks on the cats who go outdoors. At 5,000 feet of elevation, we have never before seen ticks or fleas. It appears climate change affects out cats, and risk factors are different because of it. In addition to other precautions, we will be using a regular topical tick product monthly until the snow begins to fall again. Ticks carry several other diseases and can lead to significant illness, so they are more than just an unpleasant discovery.
Our visit focused on Brandy and Miss Marple. Both are about 12 years old. Miss Marple has been badly maligned over the years, as she thinks the abbey grounds are her exclusive territory. In attempting to drive away any of the other cats who occupy the same space, she has caused several injuries, bites and abscesses. Understanding her motivation does not really make the monks whose kitties have been wounded feel much better, even though they make jokes about her and call her “The Marple”.
I noticed that Marple had lost some weight, and learned through my discussion with her guardian, Reverend Master Jisho, that she hunts pretty vigorously, more so now because the wildlife has increased its presence, presumably seeking food on new ground. We did blood work, which came back completely normal. Testing her stool for parasites is off the table because of her lifestyle. Our next steps will be a topical wormer and regular weight checks. If she continues to loose weight, we will investigate more fully.
Brandy belongs to Reverend Bridine (pronounced “bree-jheen”). She also spends time outdoors. We found a few mats on her, which we clipped up during her exam to make sure she doesn’t grow a big painful one. She had also lost weight without any other visible signs of illness or anything new in her history. Cats are so good at concealing illness! Her blood work and urinalysis revealed some loss of kidney function, which is the likely cause of her weight loss. We will be working on stabilizing that and keeping her feeling good enough to eat well.
In the three days we were there, we attended meditation and morning service, helped in the kitchen and saw almost all of the cats at the abbey. It was quite an experience, and in the end, I just wanted to relax on my couch at home.
When we visit the abbey we enter through a large bright red decorative gate. Entering feels like walking into a different world, peaceful and tranquil. Perhaps so many hours of meditation have changed the space these lovely cats live in. Leaving is always with the intention to return. We’re already looking forward to our next housecall visit with the cats at Shasta Abbey.
Dr. Elizabeth Colleran is a 1990 graduate of Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. She holds a Masters of Science in Animals and Public Policy, also from Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. In 2011, she was the President of the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP). She is a Diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, Specialty in Feline Practice. As the spokesperson for the AAFP initiative Cat Friendly Practice, she speaks at major conferences around the country. Dr. Colleran owns the Chico Hospital for Cats in Chico, CA and the Cat Hospital of Portland in Portland, OR.
For more information about Shasta Abbey, please visit their website. The abbey is a 501-(c3) non-profit organization. In the Buddhist tradition of dana (spirit of generosity,) the abbey does not charge for any of its offerings. They are deeply grateful for any kindness and support that helps them maintain the abbey.