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Welcome to The Cube....

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
The Cube is a facility within the Philadelphia SPCA dedicated to spaying/neutering/treating Philadelphia's stray and feral cats. It is, as far as I know, the only such facility in the US and has great promise as a model for other cities.

The Cube is a project started by the Philadelphia SPCA and features an OR, recover and intake areas contained within the SPCA's main building. It is staffed by selected SPCA vets, vet techs and volunteers; that staff is supplemented by volunteers from the Philadelphia Community Cats Council--I'm wonna dose guyz.

We have a list of approved trappers. fosters, and affiliated groups such as Flat Iron Wildcats in Kensington, run by the very wonderful and competent Semmelroth sisters and Project Meow, a group in West Philadelphia.

Cats brought to the Cube are logged in and categorized by their medical needs. This ranges from kittens who need their initial injections to feral cats who not only require spay/neuter surgery but also have wounds and diseases which need to be treated--in the past month I've seen some pretty rough cases.

We have Dr. Muraka, a man who has been featured on Animal Cops: Philadelphia and is one of the fastest spay surgeons in the US--he constantly yells at us, "Bring me more cats!". Dr. Evelyn is a volunteer vet with a background in rehabilitative medicine, and Dr. Budenich is a PSPCA vet who works tirelessly in the Cube and is rapidly learning about the medical needs of stray and feral cats. Those vets are supported by staff vet techs and volunteers who cover everything from pre-op prep to discharge paperwork.

Welcome to The Cube. Here is a link to some pictures, and there will be more to follow....
post #2 of 8
Thread Starter 
The Cube operates on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays; I work the Saturday clinics. The day started as most do, a bit chaotic, but normally once all people are in place, the paperwork is in order and the first cats are out of surgery everything falls into place. Today was not one of those days.

I'm a senior recovery volunteer--normally my duties consist of supervising recovery workers and assisting with difficult cases and controlling the application of Frontline as a flea treatment. Before surgery begins I am responsible for drawing up vaccines and antibiotic injections which will later be used either by my immediate supervisor--an RN--or the PSPCA's vet techs assigned to The Cube.

When I arrived this morning none of those people were present; they arrived later. Dr. Budenich began surgery on schedule, as is her habit.

She began with the males, as neuter surgery is less invasive and faster than spay surgery. Later in the day I assisted Dr. Muraka with a neuter surgery by holding the cat's legs as he operated--it took less than five minutes.

The vet creates a small incision in the scrotal sac using a scalpel blade; a testicle is then popped out and pulled to expose the connecting tubes. The vet securely ties off the two tubes and then severs them above the knot. The procedure is repeated with the second testicle, and then the scrotal incision is sealed with surgical glue. I wasn't sure if I was watching a veterinary surgeon or a divorce lawyer in action. Ennyhoo, I digress.

I barely had time to draw up the first sets of injections before the recovery tables were full of neutered males. They were unconscious, and we usually try to give them the injections before they wake up. As noone else was present, it became my responsibility to do that--fortunately I was trained to do it. This was where it paid off.

A post-surgery cat gets four injections: a rabies shot, a three-in-one vaccine combo, an antibiotic and a pain management shot. All of those injections are administered subcutaneously. This involves pinching up skin and inserting the needle, bevel up, into that skin fold. Rabies is always injected into the lower part of the right thigh to minimize the possibility of injection-related complications which could necessitate an amuptation later. It's rare. I've been doing this for almost four years and have never seen it, but it's a possibility we safeguard against. Three-in-one is done the same way but higher, and the antibiotic is usually done near the shoulder. The pain management shot is not drawn up in advance, as it must be measured for each individual cat according to weight. I did not give those injections as none of the cats had been weighed. Still, things went relatively smoothly. Until we hit the first cats for whom FIV/FELV tests were requested.

We use a "snap test", a kit which requires a blood sample from the cat. Within fifteen minutes the results can be read. We almost immediately began receiving FIV positive results--four by the end of the day--and we got one FELV positive result. Only one of the FIV positive cats had a guaranteed adoptive home, the rest were ferals. The other four were euthanized according to clinic protocol.

The protocol is not arbitrary, and it recognizes the fact that we are the only shot at veterinary care most of the cats brought to us have. It is understood that a positive cat can live a reasonably long life with proper medical care, but a feral living outside will probably die miserably from a host of infections or injuries it might otherwise survive. Euthanasia in that case is the best of a set of bad choices.

One of the cats we had to euthanize had a massive gaping neck wound--a ruptured abcess that was the result of a fight. I expect we'll see a lot of those wounds in the next few months as cats begin fighting for mating rights--and that means "kitten season" is coming.

Later in the day one of the spayed kittens--about three months old--was found not breathing on the recovery table. Dr. Muraka attempted to rescussitate it but could not. A few minutes later another kitten, brought in by the same person, was found in the same condition and also died. This was unprecedented. We've had cats die in surgery, but never in recovery during the nearly four years I've been doing this. Even Dr. Muraka, a highly experienced shelter medicine vet, was shocked and ordered a necropsy for the two kittens--I'll post the results as I get them.

After the initial pandemonium, which included an escaped feral cat who managed to send a vet tech to the ER with a bite wound (She was wearing Kevlar-lined gloves--go figure. That's like penetrating tank armor with a pistol bullet!), I managed to get some good photos of today's clinic. Some will be disturbing--fair warning. I hope to upload and link them in a few days.

"Zipper", now renamed Stitch, was also at today's clinic. She was the cat with the nasty abcess that required a good portion of the skin on her back to be removed. She's recovered nicely and has only a few healing scabs; she was well enough to be spayed. Surprise!!! She was pregnant with five kittens, which unfortunately had to be aborted. It's amazing that she managed to maintain a pregnancy throughout the trauma she suffered. She's now out of the woods--once she recovers she has an adoptive home....
post #3 of 8
Whew!!!! And bless you for the work you do!

ETA - checked out your Flickr site... Nice drawings! Really like the one of the African-American woman in the fake fur. You really captured her vibe! Are you a professional illustrator?
post #4 of 8
Thread Starter 
I've seen them recover from really nasty injuries. The cat with the really nasty neck wound that was featured a few weeks ago on "Animal Cops: Philadelphia" is now with one of our volunteers--she is recovering completely.

The wound was a ruptured abcess that had necrotized the surrounding flesh to the point that her trachea was almost exposed--this was a cat sticking her toe onto the Rainbow Bridge. The infected area was exposed, cleaned out and the cat was put on an antibiotic regimen. She is now almost completely recovered and an adoptive home is being sought.

Another cat had been fitted with a collar as a kitten, but the collar was not adjusted as she grew. The result was a collar embedded in a ring of infected flesh. The collar was removed and the infection was treated; that cat is now recovering.

Last week I saw two absolutely beautiful red and buff tabby kittens who had been dumped into a trash can on a very cold night. They were saved and made it, but that's the kind of crap I see every week and it pisses me off. And, I'm sad to say, that's not the worst of it. It does get worse--please don't ask.

One of my older rescues died this week--I had to give the order to have her euthanized. She was discovered unable to use her hind legs; the vet diagnosed a cervical injury with significant neurological damage. She did not respond to therapy, and in the end it was decided that euthanasia was the kindest option. That didn't make the call any easier.
post #5 of 8
Wonderful work done by you and your team-mates!

Some thoughts.

1. EDITED These surgeons in question are apparently a very skilled and dedicated veterinary-surgeons.

2. Most homeless are tough, them being the survivors. I suspect it is easier to make marvels on them then on a average homeraised homecats...

3. I suspect you in CUBE are doing this free for the rescuer. If you took the usual charge for this surgery it would cost a smaller fortune!
Thus, very much even advanced treatment is suddenly possible and feasible.

A normal rescuer usually dont afford very much. Unless she/he has a good rescue-organisation behind. Such an organisation can raise the necessary money.
Spaying, easier surgery and treatment at best, that is it for a private rescuer. At the best and they are dedicated.
Even if many veterinarias do give some price-reduction for helping homeless.

4. This means it is a evil circle:
Most private rescuers and smaller shelters dont afford big surgery or complicated long treatment. And thus most normal veterinarians dont have experience with complicated surgery. They either cant do it, or it takes very much energy from them - so they MUST take full payment. Major surgery never becoming a routine, something you can do when you have one extra hour free...

Solution? Probably something like the Cube; teams engaged to do such a work.

Solution at the field is perhaps if many vets and vets clinics/hospitals do accept say some hours when they work for free surgery. They do learn and get experience and the homeless gets help they wouldnt get otherwise.
- I know this is somewhat controversial: not all the surgery will be made OK...
But we must start the discussion somewhere.
post #6 of 8
Thread Starter 
The photos on the Flickr site are not mine--they were shot by another volunteer. I will be uploading some photos later, but for now none of those photos was taken by me. I am in one of them, however....

I am not a vet or a vet tech--I'm a rescue volunteer and a member of PCCC, but I do not have a formal medical or veterinary background. Everything I've learned I've learned from hands-on clinic work under the supervision of veterinary and medical professionals.

I came by this accidentally, as many of you probably have, when I found and took in an orphaned bottle-feeder kitten. I knew nothing about caring for infant kittens, but his survival depended upon my learning curve--he's now a massive red tabby living with a dentist and her husband.

A year and a half later I began trapping and got involved with a Philadelphia TNRM group that later developed into the PCCC; this was after losing a day-old abandoned kitten brought to me by a neighbor. Sometimes failure is a more powerful motivator than success.

The Cube was made possible by Howard Nelson of the PSPCA and Kathy Jordan of the PCCC and began operations last November. On 01/01/09 the PSPCA formally took over the city of Philadelphia's animal control contract; this may lead to increased capacity as we will have some access to municipal funding (don't hold your breath, though--Philadelphia's in rough economic shape) but will certainly lead to more demand for trappers, feeders and other volunteers. Philadelphia embraced the "no kill" philosophy under the previous mayor, and the PSPCA is the means by which that philosophy is being put into action.

I've pretty much been along for the ride as a volunteer, going from trapping stray and feral cats and cleaning carriers and traps to where I am now. In a few years I do hope to be trained and certified as a vet tech, but for now my real day job involves working with "feral humans" rather than feral cats. But it's easy to figure out which ferals I prefer....
post #7 of 8
Wow, what an awesome concept! Major, major kudos to the folks that put this in place, and to the men and women who work to make it happen every day.

For many years as I child, I was 100% positive I was going to be a veterinarian. There was simply no doubt it was going to happen. I loved all animals, I helped folks all the time (as much as a child could), I read stories about animal medicine, etc., etc.

Once I got into the reality of it, though, it became clear early on that I couldn't handle the human aspect of it, and I was unable to continue. The constant neglect and cruelty and even the ignorance of some people who just don't bother to exercise even the simplest common sense drove me to nearly frothing anger.

So I do rescue when I can, I run a website I hope will one day resemble a one-stop information resource center, pass out cards loaded with important information (including TCS's url!) and I talk to people all the time about their animals. Just today, I spent 45 minutes talking to a cat owner I met in a store about feline nutrition - thankfully, she was one who listened.

But I digress. My point is - you and your team do an incredibly difficult job and you do it over and over and over. You have my respect and my thanks for your strength and perseverance!
post #8 of 8
Thread Starter 
This site will be updated regularly--check in often....
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