FORT KENT, Maine — Forget coffee, nothing quite gets the day going like bathing a cat.
Not that I’m at all ready to forgo my morning cup of java for routine feline spa treatments, but it’s good to mix things up a bit, especially for a good cause.
“How do you feel about giving a cat a bath?” veterinarian Chris Yule asked me when I volunteered my services this week at the Fort Kent Animal Hospital.
The lethargic-looking tabby had come into contact with a chemical substance and was in the midst of a toxic reaction.
He had just arrived at the clinic, which this week, due to a combination of circumstances, found its tech staff reduced by half.
This I learned waiting the other day for the vet to check out a chronic injury on my retired sled dog.
After watching the skeleton crew juggle appointments and animals, I casually offered to come in the next day and help out any which way I could.
Which, it turns out, included cat bathing.
In the process, I made a dramatic discovery — the quickest way to perk up an otherwise lethargic kitty is to place the feline near a source of running water.
I can only imagine the level of difficulty in washing the critter had he been firing on all pistons.
This is because cat-bathing is one of those jobs that would be easier with three hands — one to hold the cat, one to hold the sprayer and the other to massage in the shampoo.
By the time we were done I was slightly less damp than the cat.
From there it was on to prepping exam rooms, cleaning up those rooms after exams, helping check pets in to the clinic, post-surgical care, answering the phone and general fetch-and-carry work.
In this I was joined by my friend and fellow animal lover Kim who, upon hearing of the staff shortage at the vets, instantly volunteered her services as well.
Now, I won’t speak for Kim, but when it comes to yours truly, there are years of experience in veterinarians’ offices on which to fall back.
Decades ago my after-school and summer job through high school was at a veterinary clinic and, in more recent years, my growing kennel of Rusty Metal Sled Dogs has pretty much ensured steady refresher courses in canine husbandry.
Over the years and thanks to a combination of the tutelage of patient veterinarians and some hands-on experience I’ve become pretty good at post-veterinary care for all manner of animal mishaps.
There have been plenty of opportunities.
Before sled dogs were even on my radar, there was Murphy Brown Hound — a lanky Redbone Coonhound who, while enjoying great health and longevity (she lived to be 17 years old) possessed an unerring ability for getting in harm’s way.
Not once, not twice but three times she was rushed to the vet after attacking a porcupine to have quills removed from her face, nose, mouth and throat. For the record, the score remained Murphy: 0, porcupine: 3.
One day she came in with a circular wound in her chest. Thinking she’d somehow been shot — though we’d never heard gunfire — we took her in only to discover she had run straight into a branch and impaled herself.
Another time Murphy ambled into the house and flopped down to display a series of red claw marks near her stomach and a large torn patch of skin under her front leg, possibly from an altercation with a bear.
One emergency appointment and some reconstructive surgery later, she was right as rain and back to her tricks.
In the decade since the sled dogs arrived, it’s been a constant stream of medical maladies.
There was Alaska, the diabetic husky who received twice-daily insulin shots; Wolf, a black and silver giant who had a frightful skin condition that took years to control and Prince, a stellar lead dog who received thyroid medication.
Then of course there is house dog Corky the Shusky who, while not at all accident prone, does seem to have more than her fair share of medical issues, including regular treatments for partial kidney failure.
The way I see it, all that plus countless minor injuries, sprains, infections, viruses and worming regimens make me more than qualified to offer a few hours this week at Fort Kent Animal Hospital.
Because, as far as I’m concerned, our animals deserve all the medical help we can give them in return for the unconditional love they give us.
Kim certainly feels the same way and I can say with certainty so does our friend Penny, who has nursed countess dogs back to health and once sewed a small, fleece coat for a rooster who had been de-feathered in a barnyard brawl. The only problem was while wearing the coat, for some reason the rooster would only walk backward.
And we are not alone in our dedication to our pets.
According to an April article in the Denver Post citing the American Pet Products Association, American pet expenditures this year will hit $50.84 billion, up more than $2 billion from the previous year.
Pet care, it would seem, is recession-proof.
According to the article in the Post, as a nation we will spend $19.53 billion on pet food, $11.4 billion on over-the-counter medication and supplies, $14.11 billion on veterinary care, $2.15 billion on live-animal purchases and $3.65 billion on pet services, grooming and boarding.
Clearly, as a freelance journalist I am in the wrong business, given 62 percent of U.S. households own a pet in a nation that is becoming more pet-friendly.
Increasingly hotels and restaurants are catering to our furry and feathered friends, boutique and retail outlets offering pet-centric items are on the rise, and even the “go organic” movement is reaching out with the availability of all natural animal foods and grooming products.
Given my file at the local vet’s is inches thick and the receptionist knows that file number by heart, it’s obvious I’m doing my part to keep this part of the economy chugging along.
There have been some great animals in my life over the years and some equally great vets who have kept them healthy and patched up.
In return, I’m more than happy spending a few afternoons answering some phones, comforting nervous dogs, assisting with exams and cleaning kennels.
But I can’t say I’d be sorry to never again bathe a cat.
Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award winning writer and photographer, who frequently submits articles to the Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.