Yesterday, after almost three weeks of deterioration, I had to put my beloved Russian Siberian cat, Pony, to sleep. He was 3 1/2 years old and had been in perfect health. He essentially died of congestive heart failure, in what was called by the vet an "undefined cardiomyopathy." His heart was enlarged and too severely damaged to work properly anymore; his body filled with fluid and he was unable to breathe, and so I made the decision to put him to sleep instead of seeing him so sick with no chance of recovery. It was one of the hardest things I have had to do. I do not know how I will get used to having an empty house; Pony had such a big personality that his presence is everywhere in my home. He simply was, as I used to say to people who dared ask, The Best Cat in the World.
People who do not want to think of me as a crazy cat lady stop reading here; but in my new role as CSI: Veterinarian, I have many questions surrounding his death that only get more convoluted as I find out additional information. Pony was a purebred Siberian cat, obtained from a cattery called Emerald Forest Siberians in New Jersey. Siberians are a relatively new breed in the US, only being imported from Russia within the past 15 years. They are alleged to be "non-allergenic", which means allergic people tend to see less reaction to Siberians than a standard domestic cat. Since I am allergic to cats but couldn't imagine living without one, I got Pony in June of 2002. While I don't totally buy the non-allergenic thing, I ended up falling in love with the personality of the breed. Pony was rambunctious, animated, vocal, silly and constantly by my side, involved in anything I was doing. I always called him the dog-cat, because he displayed qualities I have only seen in dogs.
When he first became sick, I called his breeder, Jill Peterson, and told her that the vet was hoping he had asthma, but feared a heart problem was the cause. I specifically asked Jill if she had heard about any heart problems in Emerald Forest cats, but she emphatically told me no. When I realized this Wednesday that Pony was probably not going to make it, I began posting to the Siberian Cat List on Yahoo, in an effort to learn anything I could about disease in Siberians while receiving support from other Siberian lovers. It truly has been a godsend to have these people to talk to while I come to terms with Pony's death.
I soon learned that at least two other people had lost their Emerald Forest-bred cats to a disease called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy , which couldn't be more similar to what Pony died from. HCM is a genetic disease, and can be caused by inbreeding. Because there is such a small gene pool for these cats in the US, problems can occur if new stock is not brought in. I did not have Pony autopsied, so I will never know for sure. Obviously, Emerald Forest does not want to develop the reputation of having diseased cats, so I was flat-out lied to by Pony's breeder. The fact that Jill Peterson would put making money above the health of her cats was so shocking to me, I barely knew what to say when I started putting the pieces together. Most breeders also refund the cost of the pet if something like this happens, but Jill never once admitted any smidgen of responsibility or even suggested that a refund MIGHT be a small gesture she could make in sympathy.
Whether this was done accidentally or knowingly does not matter in the end to someone who has lost a pet suddenly; discussion between breeders is the best thing that can happen to improve the breed. Several other breeders have contacted me to record Pony's pedigree in an effort to track these types of illnesses, and I applaud their efforts.