Two More Canaries

(Image by Win Wallace)

Since the gas station opened in July 2018, I have dealt with five acutely ill cats, three of whom became so sick they needed to be euthanized. They had prompt, aggressive and thorough veterinary treatment. In the 30 years that I have had cats, fostered cats, helped stray cats I have never had to euthanize three cats within 10 months.

None of these cats were related to each other. None of these cats had a contagious disease. None of these cats were sickened as a result of a nutritionally incomplete or tainted diet. None of these cats had previously been ill with the conditions that led to their humane death. None of these cats were frail or super geriatric.

I can’t prove that the continous gas vapour infiltrations are the culprit. However, I think anyone in my situation would tend to wonder what WAS sickening the cats in my household. I believe what is happening is the cumulative effects of this exposure, that is affecting their immune system. If the exposure to the gasoline vapours were concentrated enough, the cats would all be in the same acute respiratory distress. During an infiltration they all act pretty normal. However – chronic exposure to benzene has been proven to induce a certain type of leukaemia in humans. Children are especially vulnerable to this exposure. There are cardiovascular, and neurologic effects that are well documented, too. Gasoline has many chemical additives. There used to be lead, until that was proven without a doubt to be heinous, and removed from the market. Who knows (except a petroleum industry chemist or researcher) what the myriad of additives to a particular brand of gasoline are ? What are the effects on humans and animals ? Has anyone connected the research dots yet ? Or is this information being suppressed ?

Tonight ( Jan. 4, 2020) there was another gasoline vapour infiltration. I photographed the tanker refuelling and it appeared the driver was not even using the vapour recovery system as required BY LAW. There was a WNW wind blowing. I started smelling gas at 5:30 p.m.. By 5:40 p.m. the entire house STUNK like gasoline. By 7:30 p.m. – I could still smell gas. My eyes burn and my head aches. Of course I reported this. The person who answered my call at the Ministry of the Environment Spill Reporting Hotline was a voice I have previously spoken to numerous times. I have to report the same details each time, then I get an ID number. I write this down. Then…nothing happens. The Ministry of the Environment has never issued a written document or report with regards to my numerous complaints. The TSSA has never given me a single report in writing either. Neither entity is responsible for even taking air or soil samples to prove what is coming out of the vent pipes is safe at this proximity !

Next Canary :

Grey Guy was a cat that appeared on my doorstep in the early winter of 2011. I had been getting local strays spayed/neutered/vaccinated through a new program in cooperation with the Toronto Humane Society (Toronto Street Cats). If a cat was friendly enough, it was placed for adoption through a local rescue organization. I had begun making connections with other people involved in rescue. At this time there were zero options for low cost spay/neuter. I lived close to a large social housing complex, and several rooming houses. Many of my neighbours on the street had a couple of pets, who were fixed, and for the most part responsibly cared for. The cat explosions were coming from the rooming houses and City housing complex nearby. More well off neighbours seemed to believe that giving the “irresponsible” (true but also untrue for people with no options) owners lectures about pet ownership would somehow create cat birth control. I knew the only solution was humane and kind action. Eventually a free s/n program was created for this area which fixed HUNDREDS of cats. This didn’t happen for at least a year or so though. Anyhow.

I had a box type shelter on my doorstep for local strays, and neglected owned cats. If the cat seemed like it had a sort of home, I would feed it and keep an eye out for it, and “Oops !” if I accidentally got that cat fixed.

One day there was a new cat sleeping in the shelter. I could see out my bay window onto the front step where the box was. This cat was a long haired grey one I thought I had seen before, one that was avoidant and shy. I brought out a plate with some food and water and the cat bolted out of the shelter. It was a long haired cat, covered in giant matts. It stunk like a dumpster. I quickly went back inside and hoped the cat would return. It looked very pathetic, with a runny nose and eyes, too.

I was relieved when the cat came back and ate the food I put out. It settled back into the shelter. I could see that it was pretty sick. I made a point of putting out warm, liquefied canned food when it appeared. It started to stay close by and would come running when I opened the door. Cautiously, the cat let me touch it. One day I saw the cat curled up on my next door neighbour’s porch furniture, just getting snowed on as it slept. This seemed horribly sad. I was able to line up a neuter appointment. I brought the cat inside and hoped for the best. Some cats are very relieved to finally be inside again, while others panic about the confinement. I could tell this cat was shy, but liked to be touched and pet. I kept him in the bathroom, with food and water and a soft bed. He seemed happy to get brushed and get the giant matts carefully trimmed off. He got fixed, with an ear tip. The rescue group that said they could take him suddenly couldn’t for some reason so he stayed with me.

He was always only ever called Grey Guy. He blossomed into an affectionate cat, with a sweet personality who liked other cats. His only deficit was that he was extremely shy about meeting new people. He was adopted by a nice woman who loved him and called him the perfect cat. However, her cat hated him and made his life miserable. She was in tears when she called me a month later and asked me to take him back. She visited him a couple of times afterwards, and even though she lived in low income housing on disability also brought me food donations for the local strays. She still loved him.

Grey Guy had always been easy going and healthy. He had a couple of bad teeth that caused him pain, that were extracted. This spring I suspected another tooth was flaring up. I noticed he was a little slower about coming for lunch, and didn’t want to eat dry food – only canned food. Over the weekend in early May I noticed he seemed to be breathing faster. He wasn’t hiding, or showing other signs of discomfort or sickness. I thought the increased breathing might be a sign of dental pain. At the back of my mind was the fear that he had congestive heart failure. There was a family of cats from my old street that had this gene, and all had succumbed to their bad hearts by the age of 8. All these cats looked very similar, though, with big heads, short hair, short bodies and big feet. They were black and white or orange and white. I didn’t think Grey Guy was related – and he was at least 10 years old. I watched his breathing anxiously for a couple of days. I previously had a cat with congestive heart failure, who threw a clot after his heart condition was overlooked by the vet. This was a traumatic and terrible outcome. I had also cared for a neighbour’s cat who suddenly went into acute heart failure, and had to euthanize a friend’s cat with known heart issues, while I was cat sitting. I decided to go the veterinary ER clinic, as I knew they had better diagnostic imaging than my regular vet. I was sort of resigned that if this wasn’t a bad tooth, that Grey Guy probably had Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart, usually the left ventricle). This condition could be managed for awhile with medication, though it was not a “good” diagnosis. Nothing about Grey Guy appeared acute. That afternoon he spent laying in the spring sun, in the window, and seemed fine except for the mild breathing thing. A cat in congestive heart failure is typically struggling to breathe – and as they breathe their entire abdomen flares in and out with the effort. As it worsens they are open mouthed breathing and panting in distress. This was not what was going on, at all.

At the ER clinic they take a verbal history from the person, and do a visual once over of the animal. Grey Guy was very scared about being at the clinic, but he looked otherwise in good condition. I explained my experiences, and my concern, and they did an immediate triage after I signed the consent form. About 20 minutes later the vet called me into an exam room. She asked a few questions – like had he experienced any physical trauma like possibly being hit by a car (no). The X-rays were devastating. They revealed that Grey Guy had very extensive plueral effusion. This is where fluids collect in the pluera – the membrane around the lungs. This can happen after trauma, or as a result of cancer or heart disease. They could tell more by draining the fluid and analyzing it – but this was not without serious risks including infection or lung collapse, and the fluids ALWAYS come back quickly until the underlying issue is treated, IF it can be treated. This was a lot of information to process. I felt like I had been hit by a truck.

Grey Guy was in the back in an oxygen tent. They took me to a different room with an oxygen connection, and brought him to me. Initially I thought that I would attempt to treat this. Grey Guy was in my lap with the oxygen hose just sort of wrapped around me, pointed at him. He still looked exactly like Grey Guy. For a cat as compromised as he was he looked great. It slowly dawned on me what the treatment would mean for HIM : being in a cage in a busy clinic, with injured and ill animals in cages all around him. Intrusions by many unfamiliar people, including large needles being poked into his chest. More Xrays and exams.

One of the worst things that can happen to a cat with heart issues in when they “throw a clot” (aka a saddle thrombus). This is where a clot forms in a chamber in the heart, and breaks free. This typically lodges in the junction of a major vein(or artery ?) that is shaped like wishbone that goes to each of a cat’s back legs. This is excruciating, and causes paralysis, loss of circulation and often tissue death. Diagnostic imaging can sort of see the clot forming (it’s described as looking like “smoke”) but that is not super precise. I had to decide whether to do nothing (unconscionable), begin treatment that had no guarantees of a positive outcome, though it might help for as little as 24 hours – or could give him days, weeks or months (but probably not a year or years). The only other option was euthanasia. I sat with him for a long time, asking him what I should do to help him. He was stressed out enough that even though we were in the room alone together, with direct oxygen, he was panting. He’d had an okay day. He had been hiding this major trouble from me so well. Some cats are very confident and brave fighters. He wasn’t. I didn’t want Grey Guy to have to suffer through days of painful treatments that might not help much at all. If it wasn’t heart disease but cancer, it had surely aggressively metastasized already. I told the vet that I had decided to euthanize him instead. She checked in a couple of times. I could tell she was holding the needle in her hand in the pocket of her lab coat. This felt like a horrible exam where there was no right answer.

I walked home with dead Grey Guy in his carrier after midnight. Spring trees were blooming with their beautiful fragrance. I felt like a murderer.

Did he just get the bad gene ? Lots of cats that don’t live next to gas stations develop heart problems. But Grey Guy did live next door to a gas station that is chronically poisoning the air in a house next door. Chronic benzene exposure induces cardiovascular damage in humans.

Grey Guy (euthanized May 6, 2019):

Canary After That:

Rumpy lived at a feral colony in an industrial area of Toronto. A woman and her mother had discovered this colony by accident, and felt compelled to try to help the cats there. Even though they were pretty poor, and had to take two buses to get to the area where the cats lived, they fed the cats for years. Some other cat people heard about this colony and reached out to help with things like transportation, trapping and getting the cats fixed. The caregiver said Rumpy had been at this colony for years but was in rough shape. He had some sort of accident or bad fight and disappeared for months during the winter. When he showed up in spring he was thin and looked awful. She felt he wouldn’t survive another winter there.

Rumpy first stayed with a very experienced cat rescue woman, while he recovered from being neutered. Several weeks later, she still hadn’t made any progress with him. He was hissy and stayed stuffed behind the toilet when she tried to visit with him. He was transferred to a different foster home and given a nice bedroom. This woman was pretty elderly, and also couldn’t seem to make any progress with him, as he just hid when she came in the room. She was going to have out of town guests who needed the room, and she wasn’t confident he wouldn’t make a break for it if the door was accidentally left open. I said that I could foster him while she had company.

It took another very experienced cat rescue woman and I almost an hour to get him into a carrier. He ran away from us and stuffed himself into impossible locations in the small 10 x 10′ room. At one point both of us were laying on the floor under the bed, on different sides, reaching out to him, both unable to grab or direct him. I could brush him with my finger tips. While we were talking to him in a soft voice, trying to make a plan, I was able to stroke his neck with my fingers and it felt like he leaned into this, just a little ! Finally we got him, amid disbelief at his wiley ways.

I had a small room I used for foster cats. They had a window they could look out of, a small bench they could sort of hide under, a bed, a dishes and litter. There was no escape, except out the door, and no heavy or large furniture that was inaccessible.

The caregiver had described Rumpy as “friendly” but so far none of the fosters had seen this. When I went in the room with his lunch, he hissed at me. When I went in to observe him and talk to him he hissed at me. He was eating lunch and using the catbox, but ignoring catnip. It was summer so I had the victorian sash window open about 2″ for some fresh air. Rumpy sat on the window ledge, with one front leg and one back leg stuffed under the window, as though he could escape this way. I thought that there was no way that this cat was not feral.

Despite this, I kept visiting him, and he kept himself on the windowsill, with a large plant between us. At some point I reached out to him, and hesitantly touched him. He hissed at me, but didn’t move away. I started petting him. More hissing but he stayed in one place. I kept petting him and his bum went up in the air – like cats do when they like a certain kind of touch. I said “Rumpy !” (Previously he had been called Greydon that didn’t fit at all). I just kept petting him, he kept tolerating this. Periodically he would hiss at me. At some point I could feel him silently purring. This went on for a couple of weeks. It seemed pointless to transfer him again since I was getting somewhere. Gradually he let his guard down. At some point he decided that I was okay then that was it. He was not a feral cat anymore !

With Rumpy, it was like a light switch that was either off or ON. He was feral then NOT feral. I was an enemy then he FULL ON loved me. We got to know each other a little more every day. Rumpy had to unlearn some industrial parking lot ways – like he got really scared when a light switch or a tv set got turned on in a dark room as in his brain this meant “Truck !” Rumpy decided he liked to be in my lap but growled when I typed at a keyboard. He decided that if he was on a table and I was close by that he would stand up and hug me. Unlike most cats, Rumpy flapped his tail when he felt emotional – especially positive emotions – which was most of the time. If another cat was already in my lap Rumpy would jump up and just sit on top of that cat ! He was really bossy for such a small guy. And he LOVED catnip – he had just been acting like he didn’t to trick me.

When he was on my lap his fur would part to reveal old scars. He had damage to one of his eye’s inner lids, and most of the teeth were missing from that side of his face, like from a major impact. Rumpy had survived some rough stuff.

Rumpy fit in well with other cats. Much to my surprise, he became a cat who was very confident meeting new people and even liked little kids. For the first year with me he wouldn’t even look out the window and showed zero interest in going into my small backyard. He definitely did not want to give the impression that he ever wanted to be “out there” again. After a year or so with me he relaxed about this, then definitely enjoyed some yard time.

Rumpy was always a super healthy guy, despite his hard and unknown past. He had some bad teeth out in 2018 but that was it. His bloodwork then was excellent. His actual age was unknown. He was an adult when he entered my household in 2011. I am guessing he was at least 5 years old but he might have been older or younger. He had some prolonged snuffles that cleared up with antibiotics this winter.

When I moved to this house, he seemed extra excited about the factory parking lot next door. It was like “Home !” in that part of his brain. He was also excited to come inside and eat lunch, too. I was very cautious about traffic and other dangers, so I didn’t like to let the cats roam freely if I wasn’t around, and I always rounded them up to come inside.

In the middle of this August, I noticed that it was taking Rumpy longer to finish his supper, which was new. This went on for a few days, so I took him to the vet. He had also been doing some reverse sneezing – the same as when he had the cold this winter. I assumed he might have a recurring upper respiratory thing going on. I decided to get some bloodwork done, just to be on the safe side. He was his usual bossy self at the clinic and seemed great for a cat his age. We were sent home with some antibiotics for the suspected URI. The vet that I saw wasn’t working on Saturday so a different vet called with his bloodwork results. This was SHOCKING. Rumpy was in end stage renal failure ! His creatinine was 633 (normal reference range 80m-221 mol/L), his urea(BUN) was 60.6 (5.7 – 13.2 mmol/L), his phosphorus was 4.8 ( 0.9 – 2.0 mmol/L), and a bunch of other results were either crazy sky high or dangerously low. This was all extra strange in contrast to the physical condition of Rumpy. He was about 93% normal. His blood tests put him past stage 4 of IRIS staging.

Click to access 3_staging-of-ckd.pdf

I had three geriatric cats with kidney failure between 2005 – 2008. Kidney failure (or “renal insufficiency”) is common in geriatric cats. Typically they start to show symptoms in stages – like drinking a lot, losing weight, new barfiness or inappropriate peeing. As their numbers creep up they might become wobbly, or weak, dehydrated, and have a lot of other symptoms. With Rumpy’s awful bloodwork, he should have been barely able to stand, very stinky from the accumulated toxins and dehydration, twitchy and almost comatose. But the only symptom he was showing was slight inappetance ?! Since he had been at the vet on Thursday, he had taken several doses of the antibiotic and seemed to be now feeling about 97%. This made NO SENSE. I rushed to the vet on Saturday before they closed to purchase supplies for subcutaneous fluids, prescription kidney diet and probably some other things I don’t remember in my panic. The mantra I remembered from the cats with kidney failure online groups was “treat the cat not the numbers”. I was very confused. I posted to these groups with Rumpy’s information, and the replies I got were almost skeptical, as this as a picture made NO SENSE. I didn’t know if Rumpy was just going to die, like immediately or what to expect. He had Xrays to check for kidney stones, ureter blockages or visible tumours but there was nothing unusual.

I did some reading about Acute Kidney Injury – like when a cat has ingested poison or a toxin which causes kidney damage. While Rumpy’s bloodwork certainly suggested this was what was going on – Rumpy seemed pretty okay. It was all super weird. I did hours of research on Bromadiolone – the horrible anticoagulant that is used in rodent bait stations – the one the gas station has but three feet from the property line. Had Rumpy eaten a rodent and was now being poisoned from this ? Rumpy doesn’t have any teeth left, and was never a big rodent hunter or eater. He also wasn’t a cat that would eat anything for kicks. IF it was AKI – why wasn’t he extremely sick ?

I admitted him first thing on Monday for a day of IV fluids. The staff was surprised by his good condition, his now great appetite. The vet who saw him was also shocked by his bloodwork vs Rumpy in the flesh. She made a bunch of calls to specialists, pursued information about different conditions that “might” be causing this. Nothing made sense. It seemed that there was some sort of infection that was responding to antibiotics – but what ? He was switched to a different antibiotic that was effective against things like hemobartonella and leptospirosis. Even those diagnosis were not a comfortable fit. It was all very, very odd. Was he just some kind of super tough cat ? I guess so.

I started all the things you do with a cat in kidney failure – sub Q fluids, diet, phosphorus binders, B12 supplementation. I had no idea if Rumpy was just going to fall over dead or what was going to happen.

He did a month’s course of antibiotics. His bloodwork was checked a couple of weeks after the first crisis/non-crisis – and his body was responding to treatment. His numbers were still terrible – but they were steadily dropping towards normal. What was going on ?

After he completed his antibiotics he seemed fine, then as every day went by he seemed less fine. Cats with kidney failure often have deep seated urinary tract or kidney infections. A urinalysis was run which showed no signs of infection. It seemed like some kind of infection was making him sick and affecting his kidneys – but what ? He was started on a broad spectrum antibiotic that is used to treat kidney infections – in case he truly had a “silent” infection. He bounced back within a couple of doses and seemed fine again. What on earth was going on ?

During this time I tried to give Rumpy everything he wanted. He got lots of time in a sunny spot in the yard, he got to be jungle Rumpy sleeping in some tall weeds, he got to go in the front yard after midnight, and got carried around to see whatever sights he was interested in. He was 97% the Rumpy I had always known. I had no clue what to expect.

On Sunday Rumpy had a good day. That evening he seemed suspicious of his meal (which did have medication type things added to it, like all meals since this began) and wanted to eat another cat’s food. He barfed up his supper a couple of hours later and from that point seemed very unwell. I hoped it was maybe a GI bug. He wouldn’t eat that night or the next day. He still wanted to be held and was affectionate. Then he started hiding so deeply I had to look for him with a flashlight. He seemed wary and disoriented. This was really unusual.

Because he wasn’t in crisis, and everything about his situation was so complicated and weird, I didn’t think there was any point in taking him to the ER vet. The best they could offer was IV and some bloodwork, while I tried to describe all the things that didn’t make sense. If he had cancer of some kind – it wouldn’t respond to antibiotics. If he had an infection – where was it ?

I hardly slept and called the clinic the next a.m. Through tears I said that I hoped for the best but expected the worst. I said that I wanted some bloodwork done, and then we would go from there as to a plan of action.

Rumpy seemed like he felt obviously horrible – which I had never seen before. Despite this he made a fuss in the cab to the clinic, and made a fuss when his blood was taken.

His bloodwork was devastating. His creatine level was now 1200, and he was dangerously anemic. There were no realistic treatment options for him – since he had already been on the antibiotic of last resort (Marbofloaxin) for over a month. Aggressive IV might lower his creatinine levels to what – 1000 ? For a couple of days spent in a cage at a clinic ? I didn’t know what was killing him. I felt that euthanasia was the only kind choice as there was really no hope left.

I held him like I always did and he flapped his tail. They injected the sedative and he slumped a little, then the next shot was done. When his tail stopped flapping I knew he was gone.

What happened to Rumpy ? What made him so sick in such a very strange way ? Was he poisoned ? If so what poisoned him and how ? What infection devastated his body ? What infection can devastate an otherwise healthy cat’s body this way ?

Rumpy (euthanized Oct. 22, 2019):


The first three canaries:


  1. I hope you might take some comfort that you have given them whatever amount of time in their life where they were loved and welcome. I know that won’t lessen the loss or ease your anger and frustration with your neighbor and the bumbling bureaucracy, but your heart is in the right place with all these kitties.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s