Snow and Tell

by Kenneth B. Lourie


Perhaps you’ve heard the latest snowfall prediction from the Farmer’s Almanac the Washington metropolitan area this winter: 45 inches. If you are new to the area, let me assure you, 45 inches is a lot of snow. In fact, it may be too much. It’s double the average per-annual snowfall and nearly triple what seems like the normal year’s accumulation.

The last year we actually received 40-plus inches of snow was - if I remember my cat Smokey’s emergency veterinary visit correctly, and I do - the winter of 1995-96. Nearly the winter of this pet owner’s discontent.

During the preceding summer, Dina and I had reanimalized our family: getting a Persian kitten and a golden retriever puppy. (It had been two years since our last pair had passed on after 15 years of togetherness.) And by February 1996, we had certainly bonded with our newest family members.

In the weekdays leading up to the 20-plus-inch snowfall/storm we all experienced that February Friday, Smokey began to show signs of discomfort. He didn’t want to go out, and worst of all, he didn’t want to eat. On Friday, I picked him up and carried him to his food (elevated to protect it from the dog) and noticed a foul odor. I turned him around and saw the problem, sort of. The area under his tail was completely covered with what appeared to be poop. It wasn’t a pretty sight. I tried to clear a passage with scissors, but his fur and all were so entangled that I was afraid to cut anything, not being sure exactly where it ended and Smokey began. And of course, he was none too pleased with me poking around back there anyway.

A day later, and 20 inches of snow deeper, it became apparent that not only was Smokey’s butt completely blocked, it was not going to clear itself, either. Therefore, we needed to get him to the veterinarian, pronto. The problem was how. Our front-wheel drive sedans were 50 yards down a driveway covered with almost two feet of snow. We were, like so many other Washingtonians that Saturday morning, snowed in. Still, Smokey’s condition needed immediate attention.

I called our veterinarian. Thankfully, his office was open. I explained the situation. He said to bring him right over. Though the animal hospital is only a few miles away, again the problem was - how do I get there? Fortunately, we have great neighbors (most of whom have pets and/or four-wheel-drive vehicles), so I called Martina - she drives a Toyota 4x4 - and told her about our situation. She was happy to help. A few minutes later Martina honked her horn, and together we SUV’d Smokey to the veterinarian. I dropped him off and returned home to await the prognosis.

A few hours later the vet called to say Smokey was fine. “Apparently,” the vet said, “Smokey had diarrhea earlier in the week, and because of his thick fur, the poop never cleared the area. Subsequent bowel movements then had nowhere to go, eventually backing up into Smokey and getting stuck.”

They gave Smokey an enema, trimmed the fur around his butt and flushed him out. “There should be no residual problem,” the vet said, “except...”

“Except what?” I stammered.

“Well,” he continued, “it’s possible Smokey may have suffered permanent damage to his sphincter muscle.”

“His what?”

“His sphincter muscle. That’s the muscle that controls the opening and closing.”

“And that means?”

“Smokey might not be able to control when he has to go to the bathroom. It will just come out.”

Oh great, I thought. He’s not even a year old. Then the vet semi-assured me that “since Smokey was still a kitten, and the sphincter muscle is fairly resilient, it’s likely he’ll have no residual problems.”

After two weeks of pilling and twice-daily topical applications to the affected area, Smokey recovered. That’s more than I can say for the snow-covered metro area that month.

And as I consider the future consequences of this winter’s predicted snowfall, I dare say it will be easier to deal with than living with a cat with an ineffective sphincter muscle for 15 years. Can you imagine?

Lourie is a regionally syndicated columnist who resides in Burtonsville, MD.