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It Started With a Caracas Cat Named Caterpillar

Updated: Saturday, June 01, 2019 05:54 PM
Published: Saturday, February 06, 2016 03:57 PM
Written by Stefanie de Alfonzo

My name is Stefanie de Alfonzo and I live in Caracas, Venezuela. My passion for cats is very recent – 2012 - although I've always loved all animals and nature. I've always considered myself more of a "dog person." To tell you the truth, it never even crossed my mind to have cats as pets, until one day a stray cat had kittens at the warehouse I worked in.

I talked to my supervisor and asked him if we could keep two of the five kittens for rodent control at the warehouse. He approved, so I took the other three to a shelter for adoption. Little did I imagine how these two kittens, Shadow, a black cat, and Caterpillar (like the forklift brand), would change my life. Between gaining their trust and learning how cats really are - calling them indifferent is unjust - I was absolutely in love with cats. People that have cats knows exactly what I mean and people who don't…why don't you go to your closest shelter and adopt one or two so you can experience for yourself the wonders of cats.

Unfortunately, in April 2013, my very beloved Caterpillar developed crystals in his urine; likely due to the dry food he was fed. I didn't realize something was wrong until it was too late. He died in the middle of the treatment. It was, and still is, very painful. I still miss him. Scared to death that something would happen to my Shadow, I took her home. Because she was used to having her brother around, I thought that I should adopt another cat soon to keep her company, even though I was still mourning for Caterpillar. Well, I didn't imagine how complicated it would be to get Shadow to accept Nikita.

The new member of the family was about five weeks old. My husband saw her and fell in love right away. A tuxedo cutie. The person who rescued her convinced us to take her in for just a few weeks until she was big enough for adoption. We called her "Mean While." But, after the third day she was renamed Nikita and we wouldn't have returned her for anything in the world. Shadow was already a year old. Apparently, Shadow really doesn't like changes, and liked even less someone that would compete with her. Remember, I had never had cats before, so all this was new to me; although my husband did have more of an idea than me - he's always been a cat person. These were the longest three weeks in our lives! Until, I finally saw them licking one another. I used every trick I could find online to help us get there; it was a relief when it finally happened. I was starting to doubt Jackson Galaxy's advice, but he was right.

Then I thought, "But the warehouse can't be without a cat," so I adopted another one, Candy. She was the one who triggered how much more involved would I get into the "cat world."

I saw her with an eye half closed in a pet store, next to other kittens waiting to be adopted. She was similar to Caterpillar, so that made me think immediately that I wouldn't adopt her just because she looked like him. I said to myself I would never adopt a cat that looked like Caterpillar because he was unique and irreplaceable. He still is, and so is Candy, but it has nothing to do with how they look. She was really grumpy and didn't like people at all. I asked the clerk if they were putting medicine in her eye, and she told me that they hadn't because she was really feisty and bit really hard. I asked if they wanted me to hold her while they applied the medicine and they agreed. They were amazed that I was able to hold her without anyone getting hurt. I went back the next day to make sure they were giving her the medicine. I also told them that they should pet her a lot and play with her, because if not, it was going to be really hard for someone to adopt a kitty so grumpy and feral. I came back a week later, she was still there. I came back a month later, she was still there. All the others got adopted, except her. That's when I thought it was a good idea to take her to the warehouse that didn't have cats anymore.

I kept her in my office until I managed to gain her trust and she would not run and hide. Poor Candy was locked in a cage for so long - more than a month since I first saw her and then adopted her, and who knows how long before that - that she would jump on my desk and start purring and massaging the table because its texture was so nice to feel instead of the bars of the cage. I thought she didn't "speak," but after a few days she was almost singing, doing a dove-like sound. She still speaks that way and is a very sweet and social cat.

Since the first day after I adopted her, she had had chronic diarrhea. She was first treated for parasites, but nothing improved. After a diagnosis of irritable bowel disease, she continued with antibiotics, steroids, change of diet, imported food - which right now is really problematic to do in my country with exchange rate control and other issues - and specialized food for her condition, and nothing helped. For four months! Taking into account the stress she could be experiencing from being left alone at night and on weekends at the warehouse, I took her home. Of course, that meant a new introduction with our other two cats. But, surprisingly, it took only three days until the other two accepted her. That's how I ended up with three cats in my house - when I was planning no pet at all - and one of them with a condition that didn't appear to go away even with at least one visit a week to the vet. My vet even sent me to another one that might have more experience with cats. And then…

I started researching online to see if there could be anything I could do to help her. Suddenly, I find a website in the States that explains in detail everything that's wrong with dry food and most commercial cat foods and included how to make homemade raw food for cats. I took the chance and invested in a meat grinder and went looking for all the ingredients. I'm not joking when I say that 24 hours later Candy's diarrhea stopped, she was perfect! Since then my three cats all eat homemade raw food and they are doing amazingly well. More energy and their fur is so incredibly soft. The key to this recipe? Cats don't eat carbs! They are obligate carnivores!

After this, I started talking to every vet I knew, that had ever crossed my path, and they started to refer to me patients with IBD, crystals, and other syndromes. Each and every one of the cats that has started the diet and kept at it has improved and their condition didn't come back. One of the vets had recently adopted a cat with the same condition as Candy. I started taking him the raw food I made and his cat got better immediately too. I hope I can register this meal so I can start selling it through stores at a commercial level, so more people have access to it. Meanwhile, I built a blog where I write about my experience. For anyone in my city who wants to start feeding their cats this food, I have it available or you can make it yourself. I also write articles about cat behavior and care and translate the information that I've been able to find online into Spanish. This way I can help the Spanish speaking community learn how to keep their cats healthy, share stories, and even help adoptions.

It's surprising how many ill cats there are here. Cats that need surgery or special, stressful and painful treatments and how little information the owners and the vets have. So, I'll do the best I can to spread the word about what cats should be eating and make a difference at least to one more cat. I really don't want anyone to suffer the way I did losing a cat or having one ill. They bring too much joy to our lives; the least we can do is care for them and give them what they need to be healthy, safe and happy. Keep calm and love cats.

In case you were wondering, the warehouse didn't get another cat. But, a local feral cat has been coming around and there isn't a rodent to be found. Good work, kitty!

Stefanie de Alfonzo is a pet blogger and aspiring raw cat food entrepreneur. She lives in Caracas, Venezuela with her husband and three happy, raw-fed cats. Visit her Spanish language blog for articles on cat health and care.