My Take Tuesday: Snowball

It was a busy morning at the clinic. Mrs. Robins arrived right on time for her scheduled appointment. She was a long time client at the clinic and was always pleasant during my interactions with her. Her hair was white, and always perfectly styled. She greeted us warmly as she came through the front door. She carried a white fluffy cat inside a pink pet carrier.

Snowball was her name. Such a name is suggestive of a soft white fluff-ball, a sweet angelic and innocent kitten. She was due for her annual vaccinations and a wellness checkup.

However, this kitty’s name is what I would call a major misnomer. Clearly, this kitty received its name long before its true nature was known.

All too often, I hear the phrase, “Doc she is an angel at home. She is just the sweetest thing.” Mrs. Robins repeated the phrase verbatim as we entered the exam room.

Snowball was sitting peaceful in her carrier. As I peered through the door of her carrier, I noticed a couple of warning signs.

When a cat is distressed, it will crouch in a unique form with the legs and tail pulled in under the body. They will extend their neck, flattening the ears against the head.

Cat bites and scratches are painful and notoriously prone to infection. As a veterinarian, I have to be very careful and observant. A cat bite on my hand could literally make me useless – everything I do on a daily basis, from surgeries to physical examinations, requires extreme dexterity and use of my hands.

“Snowball doesn’t seem very happy today,” I observed, “We need to be careful taking her out of her carrier.”

“Don’t worry doctor,” Mrs. Robins replied, as she swung open the carrier door, “She will come right out.”

Snowballs exit from the carrier was reminiscent of a rodeo bull exiting the chute during the NFR. She came flying out, hissing and swiping at everything in her path.

She leaped from the table and landed directly on Mrs. Robin’s head. She immediately extended her claws on all four feet simultaneously and plunged them into poor Mrs. Robin’s scalp.

Almost in an instant, snowball fell from atop the terrified woman’s head. Clinging desperately to a white wig. As she hit the floor, she released the hair piece and hissed. Mrs. Robins reached down and grabbed the wig and placed it back on her head.

“Wow!” she exclaimed, “She is sure mad at you!”

Dealing with a spitting and hissing feline in a demonic rage is a dangerous predicament, and can present a formidable challenge to any individual, let alone one smelling like a veterinarian.

Snowball then looked at me, hunching her back, while aggressively growling and spitting. She leaped towards me, as I jumped back. Her trajectory was clearly aimed at my upper body, and as I moved, she adjusted her posture mid-air and redirected. Her extended claws sank into my pants. I felt her claws sink into my skin and she climbed upward and onto my lab coat. She came to a stop on top of my right shoulder. Ironically, a moment of tranquility ensued. The hissing stopped and she retracted her sharp claws.

Seeing this an an opportune time, I grabbed the rabies vaccine and removed the syringe cap. I had to be supremely careful that I wouldn’t be knocked or in some other way accidentally discharge the injection into Mrs Robins or myself. At last, I found a piece of leg and carefully thrust the needle through a felted mat of fluffy white hair and into the muscle beneath.

Snowball’s reaction was unremarkable. She did not hiss or spit. She didn’t even growl.

I gently placed her back on the examination table and finished the remainder of the vaccinations and the examination.

She purred as I looked into her eyes and examined her mouth.

She entered the carrier without any hesitation upon completion of the appointment. I stood dumbfounded, what I had just witnessed made little rational sense on any level. Aggression like this that is episodic and transient, is something even animal behavior experts don’t fully understand.

“Wow, Doc, she must have just had a little rage she needed to get out of her system,” Mrs Robins stated, “She really is such a sweet little thing.”

I smiled as I glanced at the content Snowball, as she sat purring and comfortable inside her carrier.

My legs began to sting, as I felt a trickle of blood run down the front of my knee.

As Mrs. Robins left, I noticed her white hair remained immaculate, and despite having been tossed and trampled around by a wild feline, not a single piece of hair was out of place.

And that is my take!

N. Isaac Bott, DVM

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