Last year I joined Islanders Talk on Facebook to find recommendations for oral surgeons to remove my daughter’s wisdom teeth (Thank you, Dr. Langston!), but now I simply enjoy the sense of community, interesting tips, and local news. Scrolling down the page one evening, there was a post about a golden retriever found at Up-Island Cronig’s. Her tag said “Millie,” with a phone number … which the good Samaritan had called, but there was no answer.
Before routine microchipping of pets, before computers, we relied on word of mouth and animal control officers (ACOs) in such situations. Vineyard ACOs are exceptional. They really know the people and the pets in their towns, and do their jobs in a uniquely caring way. Joannie Jenkinson has retired, but I wondered if she might know this dog off the top of her head. Especially being a golden retriever, Joannie’s favorite. Did I recognize Millie? Not really. Unless you are close friends, one golden retriever looks a lot like every other golden retriever. But this dog had been found just down the street from me. It couldn’t hurt to do a quick search of my client database.
I started with the phone number. Nope. I had no clients with that number. Next I entered “Millie” and “golden retriever.” Aha! Success! Here was a record of a golden named Millie. The phone number was different from the one on the tag but I called anyway. Straight to voicemail. Now what? Aha, again! My secretary, bless her, had noted that this client was the daughter of another of my clients. I called the mother. She called her daughter, who connected with the good Samaritan, and thus retrieved Millie. (Turns out the company that made the dog’s tag had inverted two digits in the phone number.)
In February, I got a call from Tisbury ACO Laurie Clements. A tortoiseshell kitty had been hanging around a Vineyard Haven neighborhood for several years. People fed her as their local stray, but no one claimed ownership. The night before had been freezing, so one neighbor let “Torti” inside. She had eaten well, then suddenly meowed, vomited, and collapsed. The gentleman had hoped she would rally but, when Torti was still down and out by morning, appealed to the ACO for assistance. When Torti arrived at my office, she was clearly in trouble. Her body condition and coat were excellent, but neurological symptoms combined with the history suggested a possible stroke. She had a microchip, but the number had not been registered with any databases.
Veterinarians presented with strays in critical condition have tough decisions to make. Do we try to keep animals with poor prognoses alive, in case we eventually locate owners? Who pays for the care if no owner is ever located? What’s fair to the animal? Sometimes euthanasia is obviously the only humane course. Other times, treatment seems worth trying. Since Torti had been completely fine just the night before, and because she was now severely hypothermic, we decided to see if she improved at all once she was warm and treated for shock. There’s a saying in medicine, blunt but accurate: “You’re not dead until you’re warm and dead.” In other words, severe hypothermia can make things appear much worse than they actually are. Hot water bottles and warm intravenous fluids slowly raised her temperature, but nothing else changed. It did not look good for her. Was it time to quit? Though barely conscious, Torti seemed to respond to being petted. What a sweet girl, I thought. Someone must have loved her. Someone might want to say goodbye. I snapped a photo and posted on Islanders Talk.
An immediate flurry of replies. People offering to adopt her. (No. Thank you. She is not likely to survive.) People offering to pay expenses. (No. Thank you. So generous, but not necessary.) People tagging friends who have tortoiseshell cats. (Is she yours? No. Thank you. Ours is right here at home.) People offering to come as hospice volunteers and sit with Torti. (No. Thank you. I am doing that. But your kindness is overwhelming.)
Then this post. “My cat ran away some time back, and looks exactly like this. Her name was Remy, and we assumed she had been rehomed or passed away. I attached a picture of her from about four or five years ago. If this is her, or she responds to the name Remy, I would like to see her.”
I compared the picture to Torti, trying to match each orange patch, each black marking. Similar. Not exact. Could be. Maybe not. “I do not think it is her, as there seem to be some differences in the markings, but I can arrange for you to come see her later.” “I will be on the 7:30 boat back on Island my dad had a heart attack and we’ve been in Boston this weekend. I would like to see if this is her. It broke my heart when she ran away.” All I could do was wait for them to arrive.
Then another post. “I honestly believe that is my wife’s old cat. Haven’t seen the cat in three or four years, which would make the cat 17 or 18 years old. Her name is Jibby, please contact me. I sent you a message.”
It soon became clear Torti was almost certainly Jibby. Her original owners lived not far from where Torti had been found. Jibby had run away repeatedly after her family got a dog. During one disappearance, Jibby ended up at the shelter, where she had been microchipped. When the family located and readopted her, they had not registered the microchip. It all added up. When all parties arrived, we confirmed the identification. It was Jibby. She had been missing for three years, and was over 18 years old. Thanks to this remarkable online community, Jibby’s owner was able to hold her as we helped her pass away that evening … and all the folks on Islanders Talk mourned along with us.