The Utility of a Shoelace

photo taken by Ema Solarova

It’s about midnight, I’m in the second production meeting of the night and I’m dozing off. Pulling off professional scale film productions on the nights and weekends while being a full time student is the nature of film school, so this is nothing out of the ordinary. They’re talking about lenses right now, anyway. Being the casting director, that’s far enough from my department that I use my wakeful moments to think about the reading on utilitarianism I need to do tonight. We touched on utilitarianism in the elective I took last semester, so I can just skim through it. If I get home at 1 AM and send out the callback invitations right away, I can do the reading and be in bed by 3—

My phone buzzes with a text from my roommate: “Marla ate a shoelace. I tried to catch her but she ran away.”  Marla is my cat. I’m not quite sure what to make of this. I believe animals have strong natural instincts and thus can take care of themselves. If my cat ate a shoelace, surely she knew what she was doing and she’ll be alright.

When I get home my roommate tells me she saw Marla with just a little bit of the shoelace hanging out of her mouth and tried to grab her, but Marla got away. She tells me one of her cats growing up did the same thing and had to have surgery. Not my cat, I think. Marla’s smart. My roommate closed Marla in the bathroom because she threw up on the carpet after eating the shoelace. While I’m not sure what to make of the whole shoelace thing, this provokes an emotional reaction in me. My darling kitty locked in the cold bathroom alone. 

When I enter the bathroom, Marla greets me with her usual loud meow–she’s a very vocal cat. I play with her and she seems perfectly fine. I bring my laptop into the bathroom to search the internet for advice and observe Marla, who behaves like she always does. The concerned pet owners of discussion forums separate into two groups: the first one says that it’s not a big deal and the shoelace will just come out, while the second one says that I need to take her to the vet immediately. It’s 2 AM, I’m tired, my cat seems fine. Maybe I should just do the reading. Mulling over my options, I pass out on the bathroom floor. 

Having successfully navigated my way through that utilitarianism reading discussion, I arrive home the following night to find a lethargic kitty. By the look of her bowls, she didn’t eat or drink all day. After agonizing over it for a bit, I decide to take her to an emergency clinic I found online–it’s about 11 PM now, so my vet is closed–that’s pretty close and advertises a $50 diagnostic exam. Wrestling her into the carrier is less impossible than usual, so it is clear that she’s not feeling well at all.

The doctor at the ER tells me that “swallowing an elongated object” is a common problem for domesticated cats and dogs. She suggests feeding my cat barium and doing a series of X-rays overnight to determine where exactly the shoelace is. I suspect this is not included in the $50 exam, but when I ask about the price, she smiles and assures me they’ll bill me at the front desk.  

The front desk lady presents me with a bill for $800.  I stare at it and contemplate my options. I always judge the people who try to crowd-fund their pets’ medical bills, I think it’s wasteful to spend so much on animals—especially if you don’t have the money—when free puppies and kittens are easy to come by. Marla herself was free on Craigslist and I didn’t even want her at first–my roommate gave her to me against my wishes when I was grieving for another cat. I suppose I could take Marla home. But to do what? Slowly die of thirst and hunger? I want to ask them for other options, but I quiet the thought the moment it forms.  “Other options” sounds like a nice way of asking them to kill my cat. My mom just wired me the deposit for my class trip to the Sundance Film Festival, so I have enough money for this. 

An uncomfortable feeling squeezes my stomach. Wait, this is just to find out where the shoelace is. Then what? Am I spending money earmarked for a trip I’ve been dreaming about for years just to find out Marla needs a medical procedure I can’t afford? It still seems like the best option right now. I hand my debit card to the smiling lady and sign the bill. It’s 2 AM and I drive home alone. I am confused and scared, but I try to stay hopeful. I think about the kitten that’d hide under the bed in her new home while I was on the porch weeping for my previous cat that had just gone missing. I think about how I felt back then. Despite my expectations of that previous cat coming back, despite being upset at my roommate for making this decision for me, the most powerful feeling I had was to be nice to the cat who got caught in the middle of it. I would lift my mattress off the bed frame and scoop up a little ball of fur that would start purring instantly. She still does that. But for how long? I try not to think about that.

I send a begging email to my mom, who tells me that I really shouldn’t have a cat that’s this expensive. It feels like a punch in the guts. What exactly are you saying, mom? I completely agree, but I didn’t want this to happen and certainly didn’t cause it. She must understand that, because she does wire the money, saving my Sundance trip. I happily accept this in lieu of a few birthdays and Christmases to come.

The next morning I go back to pick up Marla, fully expecting to hear she needs a surgery I can’t afford. Over the barium-bright intestines of my cat on the X-rays, the doctor points at the grayish scramble she maintains is the shoelace and tells me Marla will simply poop the shoelace out. Before I can process this information enough to ask if I’d just spent 800 bucks on medical care just to find out that no medical care is, in fact, needed, she says that the contrast fluid can sometimes help things move along better. I am happy to be reunited with my cat and choose not to question things much further. I’ve never been so excited about poop in my entire life.

A day and a half later, however, the shoelace poop is nowhere to be found and I call my vet. They tell me to bring Marla in.

I’m crying the whole way to the Pet Hospital. That is to say, I’m ugly sobbing. They do an X-ray to confirm what I already fear: Marla needs surgery. I am bawling all the way through the conversation. The doctor shows me an estimate for $1600. She explains they’ve tried to keep the costs down, they’re not billing everything they’d normally bill for.  I appreciate it, but I still don’t have that much money. She offers me a special credit card for health emergencies, but I just swallow my tears. Thanks to my non-resident alien immigration status and lack of US income, I don’t get to do credit cards. The doctor is extremely nice and understanding. She disappears to talk to her manager and comes back with a payment plan: if I pay half right now, I can pay the other half in $100 monthly increments. I am overpowered by happiness and gratitude. Goodbye, Sundance Film Festival, goodbye going out in the next eight months, I don’t care. I sign the papers and hand over my Visa. I just got a payment plan out of the goodness of my vet’s heart.

Once again, I go home alone. This time, however, I’m feeling much better about everything. I email my mother and good family friends asking for their help, offering to give up a few more birthdays and Christmases. To my surprise, I get a quick response: they will help me out! Even my mother sounds more understanding than last time.

I am happy I still get to go to Sundance, but even more excited to pick up Marla after her surgery. The next thing I do is sign her up for medical insurance. Her policy is better than mine, but that feels appropriate. In just a few days, I completely reinvented my views on pet medical spending and insurance. 

I struggle to morally and intellectually justify what I did. How many perfectly healthy cats are killed in shelters every day? How many people die each day around the world because of conditions preventable with a $3 vaccine?  How many malaria nets does $2400 buy? 

It’s a good thing I’m not a utilitarian because I get to keep my cat. The formerly shy kitty now actively showers me with affection. Every day, I come home to a loving creature. She purrs loudly and demands to be held. She climbs on my back and sits on my shoulders. “Thanks for not putting me down,” she seems to say when she licks my lips, overjoyed. It’s hard to measure happiness, but this feels like the best way to spend that money.

Sleep Disorders (Monthly Cat Care Article)

photo by Clarabelle Fields

Disclaimer: the staff writers here are not vets nor are they qualified to give medical advice. This article’s purpose is strictly to share stories/information and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Please take your cat to the vet if you suspect anything might be wrong with them. Your vet will know best what to do in your specific situation.

Cats can certainly adhere to odd schedules, at least by human terms. Cats often sleep blissfully through entire days only to burst with lively energy and enthusiasm at particular hours of the night. Most “normal” cats do sleep quite a lot — sometimes upwards of 15 hours or more — but this sleep is generally light or dozing sleep, from which they can awaken quickly if need be, and most “normal” cats awaken for activity during dawn or twilight hours. That being said, however, cats can and do suffer from a variety sleep disorders, especially as they age.

Narcolepsy is one kind of sleep disorder cats can suffer from. A cat with narcolepsy will suddenly collapse and seem to have fallen into a deep sleep, and the cat will also exhibit signs of REM sleep as if it is dreaming. The exact causes of narcolepsy are unknown. The disorder in and of itself is not dangerous, but could present dangers if the cat were to fall into water or from a high height because of a sudden sleep attack.

Sleep apnea is another sleep disorder cats can have, especially if they are overweight or if they are Persian. Symptoms to look out for include loud snoring, gasping/choking while asleep, and spasms of the diaphragm. Treatment might involve weight loss if the cat is overweight or corrective surgery in more extreme cases.

Cats can also suffer from insomnia, especially elderly cats. Some elderly cats will develop erratic sleeping schedules and will have difficulty sleeping. Some cats will be extremely restless and vocalize frequently throughout the night as well. In many of these cases, insomnia and disrupted sleeping patterns can be the result of age-related cognitive decline or sometimes hyperthyroidism. 

So what’s a pet parent to do? If your kitty doesn’t seem to be distressed or in pain and their sleep schedule stays relatively the same, perhaps they just enjoy roaming during nighttime hours. You might want to invest in earplugs.

Cats and UTIs (Monthly Cat Care Article)

photo by Clarabelle Fields

Disclaimer: the staff writers here are not vets nor are they qualified to give medical advice. This article’s purpose is strictly to share stories/information and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Please take your cat to the vet if you suspect anything might be wrong with them. Your vet will know best what to do in your specific situation.

Last month, we talked about FLUTD/FIC, which are diseases that afflict cats’ urinary tracts. This month, we are continuing to look at urinary tract issues, this time focusing on a well-known, common problem: urinary tract infections (UTIs).

UTIs can affect both male and female cats, unlike FLUTD/FIC, which is much more common in male cats. UTIs more commonly affect older cats, cats with diabetes, and cats with FLUTD/FIC, with UTIs being most common in older female cats. The cause of most UTIs is relatively straightforward. Just like in humans, feline UTIs are caused by a bacterial infection of the urethra. If left untreated, the infection can spread into the bladder and kidneys, which can be very dangerous. Fortunately, UTIs can usually be treated with antibiotics, and with prompt, early treatment, most cats make full recoveries.

UTI warning signs include:

– Struggling to urinate. The cat passes small amounts of urine or none at all.

– Frequent trips to the litter box.

– Urinating outside the litter box.

– Discomfort while urinating. The cat might hiss or yowl in the litter box.

– Licking at the genitals.

– Restlessness, listlessness, maybe a fever.

– Blood in the urine.

If you observe any or some of these signs in your cat, take them to the vet right away and have them checked out. The earlier you catch any infections, the better, and the sooner you can get them started on antibiotic treatment. During and after treatment, however, it is important that you monitor them for additional signs of distress — sometimes the inflammation caused by the UTI can lead to the development of a urinary blockage, especially in male cats, so it’s important to stay vigilant and make sure your cat is not developing additional complications.

With quick treatment and the eye of a watchful, loving pet-parent, most cats can recover from their UTIs and go back to being their playful, happy selves in a short time. When in doubt, it’s always a good idea to ask a vet to make sure your fur-baby is okay.

The Gremlins in My Litter Box


Recently, I have had the misfortune of being persecuted, my dear followers, by what I can only assume are gremlins in my litter box. I have no idea why these invisible creatures have chosen to come after me, especially now. At troubled points in my past, I dealt with their curmudgeonly attacks, and I dealt with these attacks largely in silence. These attacks, although irritating, would eventually pass, and I would forget about them until they would inevitably return one day without warning. Sometimes weeks would pass where I would be left undisturbed, and I would relish those weeks, relish the freedom of being able to use the litter box in peace. Other times, I would have to grit my teeth, knowing that the gremlins would emerge and make my litter box an unpleasant place whenever I attempted to do anything. I was brave for a long time, enduring the gremlins, but eventually it became too much for me. I had to seek out alternative options just to try to escape them. I tried to use other places–the bed, the couch, the rug, hidden corners around the house. The gremlins still managed to find me. Now I wasn’t safe anywhere in the house, and I started hissing at them. They were lurking invisibly around me, everywhere. I just wanted to win back the trust and peace I had formerly enjoyed in my litter box.

I had tried to tell various humans about this at points when it got especially bad. My humans didn’t seem to understand my distress. They thought I was just being a bad-tempered emperor, upset by the rearrangement of furniture in my palace. Some vets didn’t understand me either, saying it was just because I was fussy about my litter. It’s the gremlins, I kept saying, it’s the gremlins, but my cries fell on deaf ears for a long time. It was really the hissing and the madness that got my humans’ attention–finally, at last, someone was aware of my struggle with these gremlins.

I almost regretted bringing their awareness to it at first. I can’t count the number of times I got stuffed in the dreaded cat carrier and hauled to a vet. The number of times I saw the cold insides of that vet’s office! The number of times I got poked and prodded! The number of times I was forced to eat horrible, bitter liquids! But whatever they did to me, as awful as it was, chased the gremlins away, at least for now. It’s hard to believe that they’re actually gone and won’t torment me anymore.

Julius’ Journey with FLUTD/FIC (Monthly Cat Care Article)

photo by Clarabelle Fields 

Disclaimer: the staff writers here are not vets nor are they qualified to give medical advice. This article’s purpose is strictly to share one individual’s story and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Please take your cat to the vet if you suspect anything might be wrong with them. Your vet will know best what to do in your specific situation. 


This post today will discuss our long and at-times frightening journey in discovering, diagnosing, and treating Julius’ FLUTD/FIC. For those who might not be extremely familiar with FLUTD, it stands for feline lower urinary tract disease. FLUTD is a general term that encompasses a number of related medical conditions, all of which involving issues with urination, the bladder, and the urethra (especially in male cats). Cats with FLUTD often struggle to use the litter box and may experience a lot of pain when attempting to urinate. This pain can often prompt them to urinate outside of their litter box, if they are even able to urinate at all. FLUTD can be caused by a number of conditions, such as the presence of urinary stones or blockages. It can also be caused, as in Julius’ case, by a condition called feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC), which basically means that the affected cat’s bladder becomes inflamed for some unknown reason and then causes pain and other problems with urination. These conditions can be life-threatening if they lead to a severe infection or a urinary blockage, which can kill a cat very quickly if left untreated.

Julius came to me with a tentative diagnosis of FLUTD/FIC, but at this early stage of our lives together, this diagnosis was not one that was set in stone. Various vets disagreed over whether he actually had the condition or not. Before I got him, a woman had adopted him and then returned him to the shelter because he had been peeing consistently outside of his box. A vet had diagnosed him with “probable FLUTD” but hadn’t done any tests such as urine analysis to check for crystals or infection in Julius’ urine. This tentative diagnosis, which was displayed prominently on a card above his cage, warned potential pet parents that he would need to be on a special kind of food that can be quite pricey.I think this is what scared people off from adopting Julius for so long. He was (and still is) an extremely cuddly, friendly cat, but he had been in the shelter for nearly a year by the time I met him. I adopted him anyway, knowing that he might have health problems and might require a special diet. I have a special diet myself (hello food allergies) so I sympathized a lot with his situation. I was concerned about his medical history, of course, but two other feline medical professionals told me they did not believe Julius had FLUTD. They both believed he had been incorrectly diagnosed and that his peeing problems were behavioral — the result of his previous owner having left him for periods of 3 weeks at a time and not regularly changing his litter box. Since the vets didn’t believe the FLUTD diagnosis, I fed Julius “regular” indoor cat food instead of his special diet. Things were fine for a while. He ate the regular food and didn’t seem have FLUTD. But then…

About a year and a half later, we began having issues. Minor ones at first. Julius started peeing outside of his box, not all the time, but enough that Nature’s Miracle became a regular staple on my shopping list. He seemed to be peeing strategically, in front of doors and, unfortunately, on the bed. I thought these issues were behavioral as well. He would do it when I was gone for a weekend or on short trips. He would do it if something upset him. He began to get really bad after I rearranged the furniture. I thought he was just acting up, being bad, being naughty. I was frustrated and didn’t understand why he kept peeing everywhere, even when he had a clean litter box. I took him to another vet, who also agreed that it was behavioral. She told me to get Feliway and keep his litter box immaculate. It made no difference. He kept peeing in his favorite “pee spots”, often going on week-long rampages where he would pee everywhere. I was at my wit’s end.

It took six months of this before I finally understood that something was seriously wrong and it was not just “behavioral”. One morning I found Julius in obvious extreme distress. He was straining to urinate but only passing very small amounts. I watched him attempt to use the litter box six to eight times in the span of 30 minutes. He was clearly in a lot of pain and distress. I took him to an emergency animal clinic immediately, afraid that he had become blocked or something similarly serious. The vet there ran a urine analysis and said that she found an infection but no signs of urine crystals, so she sent him home with a ton of antibiotics and pain medications. They were all goopy, stinky, disgusting liquid medicines that I had to shove down his throat twice a day, each time with him struggling and acting like I was trying to murder him. He spent most of his time sleeping, refusing to leave the comfort of his cat bed. This vet said she wasn’t completely convinced that he had FLUTD/FIC. She rechecked his urine and said she found nothing abnormal in it. She suggested that I put him on an OTC special diet to see if it helped. I began feeding Julius a store-bought cat food with a “urinary tract health formula” in the hopes that he would be fine from there on out and not need to be on an Rx diet. Turns out I was very wrong.

Just a month after his first ordeal, Julius became severely distressed again. I found him straining to urinate. This time he was growling and hissing viciously, and he couldn’t pass any urine at all. I rushed him to the emergency clinic again. He saw another vet this time, and this vet ran even more tests than the other vet had — x-rays, urine analysis, etc. This new vet told me that Julius’ urine was completely full of crystals and that he had a blockage in his urethra. Julius had to be put under for a procedure to clean it out and remove the blockage. Those few hours where I was at home alone without my furbaby, waiting for the vet to call me back with news, were some of the worst hours of my life. I could not imagine living without him, and it was terrifying to me just how easy it could have been to lose him. To repeat — blockages are extremely dangerous for cats. If you think your cat could be blocked, take them to a vet immediately. They can die within days if it is not treated.

Luckily, Julius was able to come home the next day. He was woozy, wobbly, and had even more medicine to take. This time, this new vet, I think vet #5 at this point, told me that definitively, yes, Julius has FLUTD and FIC, and that it would be important to put him on a special diet to prevent him from having more issues in the future. The vet did not believe that Julius’ old “special” food was special enough to fix the problem. The vet instead put Julius on Purina Pro Plan Veterinary UR Urinary St/Ox Cat Food, with strict orders that Julius be fed nothing else at all — no treats, no human food, no other brands of cat food. Julius had to take antibiotics for the next 2 weeks and steroids for the next month. This time they were pills, which he happily ate with his food. I watched him like a hawk every time he used his litter box. Gradually, over that month, his urination problems went away. He became bright and happy and playful again, just like he was when I first adopted him.

Julius has been exclusively eating this new food for several months now, and to date he has had no more urinary issues. He no longer pees outside of his litter box and hasn’t had to go back to the vet for any health concerns. He is playful and as light on his feet as a kitten. I think putting him on the expensive, high-grade special diet food has done wonders for his health. It definitely costs more than feeding him something I can just go pick up at Walmart, but the difference it has made in his health and happiness has been worth it.


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