This time I swear I’ll be more determined and definitive about her cat problem.

I often promise myself lots of things before I see Mrs. Straywell. She’s like the patron saint of lost causes—lost cases, is more like it. Every week there’s a new clutch of cats—the infected and the dying…the hopelessly beyond my reach.

This week it’s a pair of kittens. About four weeks old, I’d guess, and not likely to live out their next one from the look of them. They’re tiny, shaky little things barely able to hold their heads up. With their distended bellies and emaciated, tremoring little bodies, they evoke more pity than compassion—poster kittens for euthanasia.

One black and white, the stronger brother a tabby, they appear to be having continuous mini-seizures. They’re calmer and less shaky when left alone. Pick one up and the tremors begin again in earnest.

I don’t know what`s wrong with them. There were four before this began. Now two. The kittens began with these bizarre tremors two days ago. They test negative for all the major kitty viruses; their blood comes up clean on basic chemistry and CBC. I can only assume that some infection, toxin, or congenital abnormality is amiss. But this kind of conjecture leaves a wide range of possibilities. Further testing (MRI, spinal tap, and PCR on a variety of viruses) are too expensive to contemplate. A neurologist is out of the question for Mrs. Straywell. Even she has to limit her spending somewhere.

I demonstrate how to administer the fluids these kittens will need. I show her how to feed them safely and prescribe antibiotics for their continued care—though I doubt anything will help them at this point. We discuss euthanasia—and she’s not ready yet for this step.

Finally, Mrs. Straywell picks up the black and white one. He bites her. I wouldn’t have thought he was capable of it. A small spot of blood appears on a paper towel—a fingerprint of her thumb.

And now we have to talk about rabies. And euthanasia. And all the distasteful things I’m obligated to say when kittens with neurological symptoms bite people.

She thanks me and proceeds to the exit. Now I know I’ll never be able to get through to her. If her own survival is not enough of a reason to euthanize a kitten then I’ll likely never succeed in any attempt to reason with her.

As she walks out the door I beg her to see a physician for post-exposure rabies vaccines. I implore her to at least get herself vaccinated with pre-exposure doses of the rabies vaccine for future bites. She promises to look into it. That’s all I can do for now…just until she comes back with the next round of cats. At that time I’m sure I’ll promise, yet again, to be more determined and definitive about her cat problem.