Content saved our cat

…but social media almost killed him

It was one of those warm Summer afternoons. One of those days where you have to keep all the doors open to cool the house down, however little. Our apartment is on the second and third floor of the building and features three balconies, so we can always catch a breeze when we want it. That works for us. It also works for Dexter, our cat.

I was on my way back home from work in Amsterdam, talking to my girlfriend over the phone. She realized suddenly that she hadn’t seen Dexter for a while. Not that that’s unusual, Dexter manages to slip away from us now and then, and we usually find him curled up, sleeping behind a bunch of sweaters in the closet. Nothing to worry about.

My girlfriend and Dexter, after the accident.

This time though, there was something to worry about. There was no sign of Dexter anywhere in the house. Not behind the curtains, not under the bed. It just so happens that a few weeks ago, Dexter had unexpectedly managed to climb onto the neighbors’ balcony. His route: an impossible ledge less than a centimeter wide, spanning the distance between our two apartments. We would never have imagined our clumsy indoor cat would even dare to try his luck on there, but he did. Perhaps he tried it again this time.

A quick phone call to the new neighbors gave us a vital clue. They had seen a cat on the ground floor, crouching low. Dexter? Dexter!

Mitch Rivers. I call him Pianoman.

Pianoman

My girlfriend flew down three flights of stairs and started calling: “Dexter. Dexter!” From in between the bushes, she heard a faint mewing. One of our neighbors (whom we’ve affectionately dubbed Pianoman because of the toe-curling chords we hear him play,) came to our aid. Thankfully we had Dexter’s pet carriage ready in the hallway, in preparation for a visit to the vet. One of his teeth had needed pulling.

I turned into the street just as my girlfriend and Pianoman put our yowling cat into his carriage. For a moment I thought it was too late.

By the way, Pianoman also makes some really good music. Maybe one day he’ll write a song about Dexter.

Dexter at the veterinarian, just after his fall.

Curiosity (almost) killed the cat

Josef was brought to the animal shelter during Christmas 2010. Apparently there was no more room at the inn for this particular cat. Ever since he came to live with us his name is Dexter, after the serial killer portrayed by Michael C. Hall from the eponymous TV series. Our Dexter isn’t that tough, though. He’s usually too afraid even to sit on the windowsill. When the window washer suddenlymaterializes, Dexter quickly scatters to the nearest hiding place. Whenever the doorbell rings, you’ll find him watching from behind the curtain until he decides it’s safe to come out. It’s another matter when there’s a bird, or a fat housefly, though. Then he’s unstoppable. Dragonflies and butterflies especially are the pinnacle. Dexter will charge after them with blind, reckless abandon. Still, it seems that this curiosity almost killed him. The greener grass on the other side had beckoned. He may well have kicked off his little circus act on the barely-there ledge between the two balconies. We could tell from the state of Dexter’s paws that he must have tried to hold on to the brick wall for as long as he could. In the end, he just had to let go.

Straight back down
Come back down
Straight back down
Straight back down to earth
~ Curiosity Killed the Cat — Down to Earth
Flipping Cat Physics

Flipping cat physics

They say cats always land on their feet. And that’s actually true. A cat can turn itself around in mid-air so that it’ll land on its paws. Let’s call it a silver lining.

A cat in freefall needs only 0.3 seconds to turn itself in such a way that it stands a chance of surviving the fall. When the fall is from a great height, like with Lucky the cat who fell off a New York City skyscraper, it’s got a pretty good shot at survival. That’s because a cat achieves terminal velocity after falling 30 meters. Strangely enough at that point, it completely relaxes its limbs, allowing for a better landing.

Maybe calling your cat “Lucky” has something to do with it as well.

Our little serial killer managed to turn around magically too. You can watch how cats do it in a bunch of YouTube videos. Below there’s an animation of a cat falling.

And I’m free
Free falling
Yeah I’m free
Free falling
~ Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers — Free Falling
Dexters first X-ray.

High Rise Syndrome

So, I had just turned into our street. Dexter was being helped into his carriage with the aid of Pianoman. My girlfriend and I hared off to the vet. We drove our bleeding pet through the streets of Rotterdam, where we live. Once at the vet’s office, an X-ray gave us a tentative diagnosis: Dexter had indeed landed on his feet, just onto the stone pavement. Because of the velocity, his head had hit the pavement as well. Apparently this hadn’t just broken his jaw, but actually shattered it. A broken jaw is one of the three hallmarks of High-Rise Syndrome. The other two points also applied to Dexter: one of his paws was broken, and the impact caused fluid buildup behind one of his lungs.

The best veterinary dentist near us is in Dordrecht, about 30 minutes’ drive from Rotterdam. We were told to bring Dexter there the next day to look at his shattered jaw.

Peerby (almost) killed the cat

It was late Thursday night. We were recuperating on the couch. Dexter was spacing out on painkillers in his favorite seat, a cushion by the window. His pupils were as big as marbles. The painkillers would help him through the night, and with some luck (well, a lot of luck,) he might start walking again pretty soon. That’s why we need to protect him against any wild behavior while we’re out or asleep. So we needed a pet crate. The best way to get one on short notice is Peerby.nl (a Dutch start-up). Peerby is an online service where you can place an ad to borrow things from other people at short notice. Think drills, garden hoses or in this — case — pet crates. I placed an ad and immediately got a confirmation in my inbox.

A confirmation from Peerby. My request has been posted (in Dutch).

After improvising a crate out of boxes and planks so Dexter would be safe for the night, we called the veterinary hospital. They estimated that treatment could run up to two to three thousand euros, mainly because of the shattered jaw. Though, they couldn’t say whether he would ever go back to being our happy little house cat, or if he did, how long he would last.

What do do…

I’m not a pet person. I still don’t do dogs, for instance. Ever since I’ve been with my girlfriend, I’m used to having a cat around. He’s just always there. When you see something move from the corner of your eye, it’s usually the cat. He’ll greet you when you get home, and meows after you when you leave. He’s our TV watching buddy whenever we settle down on the couch to watch a movie or series. I’m almost afraid to admit it — I love the little critter! Whereas a while ago I might have said: why not just buy a new one?

Pussycat, Pussycat
I love you
Yes, I do!
You and your pussycat nose!
~ Tom Jones — What’s New Pussycat

Three thousand euros! The phone rings.

It’s Margriet via Peerby. I tell her the whole story. Three thousand euros? A shattered jaw? Margriet says as the owner of three dogs, she’d know what to do. However much you might love the animal, three thousand is too much to spend on a cat that would still be left in a lot of pain after treatment. Especially if the cat isn’t expected to live very long afterwards. She tells me about her neighbor’s cat that also fell off the balcony. Despite a heavy investment, it died as well.

Margriet and one of her three dogs.

How is this any of your business? That’s what I’d normally think. Now, though, I wasn’t so sure. It might have been unsolicited advice from a stranger, but I saw the sense in it. Margriet wasn’t burdened by the emotions we were under, and she was, quite simply, right.

Free advice through social media. If Peerby had any say in the matter, this was Dexter’s final day on Earth.

Thankfully, things didn’t turn out that way.

Poor Dexter.

Content saved our cat

The veterinary hospital called. First off, Dexter would need a CT-scan, also known (funnily enough,) as a CAT-scan. That would run up to about 600 euros, after which we could still be moved to put him down. However, the hospital suggested, if they could use Dexter for online content they would offer us the scan for free. In exchange, Dexter would feature on the website of the local newspaper.

Turn a cat into content?

Of course we said yes. Without asking the cat’s permission, we accepted. Well-being beats privacy, don’t you agree?

We could dry our tears. The cat was put through the scanner the very same day, and guess what? Dexter’s jaw was not shattered, but broken. An unusual fracture across the width of the jaw, causing his teeth to somehow fold back into his mouth.

Dexter and… content!

Dexter’s broken paw was set using a splint and wrapped up in snazzy, zebra-patterned bandages. They reconstructed Dexter’s lower jaw and set it in a temporary cast, keeping his mouth closed while he recovers. That said, being the stubborn cat he is, he’s already managed to open his mouth regardless. We feed him his favorite dry food, only left out in a bowl of water overnight to soften up.

When we’re out or asleep, he can safely sleep out his recuperation over the next six weeks in the Peerby-crate that Margriet lent us. When we’re home we let him out, so he can gingerly walk about, making clickety noises with his splint on the parquet floor. He’s getting a little better with every passing day.

Thanks to content.

(Dexter later went on to make the front page of a local newspaper, star in an online video and appear in a magazine article.)

A video about Dexter, published on the website of Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad.
Dexter in his bench.
Dexter. Alive!

Thank you

Rowdy de Graaf for his excellent translation in English. Hire this guy!
Sarah van Hecken for motivivating me to write this story.
Pianoman for picking up the cat.
Margriet Smit for borrowing the bench (and of course @Peerby ).
Emily de Ruiter for sending us the newspaper.
Matthijs van der Kuilen for ripping Dexters video and Jaap van Zessen for arranging the original video. 
Algemeen Dagblad for creating content.
All the people helping Dexter at
Dierenziekenhuis Drechtstreek.
Dexter.

This story in Dutch.