By: Mary Wu

pets and kidney disease
It was love at first meow for Ricky and me.
Ricky was a simple and slim white and gray striped tabby cat. His fur was coarse and shed all over me when he jumped on my lap, pleading and purring for soft strokes and love. He stared me down with his piercing green eyes, assessing me and speaking unspoken volumes that he would be coming home with me and that all we both needed was to give each other a chance. Ricky loved people and did not fit the stereotype of a cat that just wanted to be left alone. Ricky was different from any of the other cats I met. Believe me when I tell you that I have encountered many cats in these last few months with my volunteer work at the animal rescue “Paws Crossed” (PawsCrossedNY.org). I volunteered there for the following reasons: 1) Experiment with my immune system tolerance around cats and build up my immune system to cats as a two-time and immunosuppressed kidney transplant recipient, 2) Strengthen the social skills of the orphaned cats so they were adoptable to find their forever home and family, and 3) Learn about cats and their world.
I ended up learning so much more.

Pets and kidney disease

I still remember sitting in the office in the winter of 2016 with my kidney transplant nephrologist asking: “Can I have a cat? Can I volunteer socializing with cats to learn more about them and even build up my immune system?”

He said, “You can have a cat, but you can’t have it sleep with you and you just have to take extra precautions with wearing gloves and masks when you clean up the feces and kitty litter. Cats can have transmitted diseases in their feces that affect transplant or immunosuppressed patients more so than others.”

Pets and kidney disease

I spent just about every weekend volunteering at “Paws Crossed.” It was the only animal rescue that understood my concerns as kidney transplant recipient, and, yet, they gave me a chance by letting me come and visit, play, and learn all about the beautiful cats without ever pressuring me to do more that could possibly risk my health. I also researched diligently on the ‘cat world’ and on such cat transmitted diseases known as “Toxoplasmosis” and “Bartonella (Cat Scratch Disease),” and how they could impact the immunosuppressed. I spoke in detail with vets about the diseases and my concerns. I asked many of my transplant recipient friends their experiences with having a pet and especially a cat. The responses were clamored positivity of the love, therapy, and extraordinary relationship between animal and human—especially at the worst of times with health circumstances.  However, I learned that nearly all my transplant recipient friends had someone else cleaning up the feces and kitty litter or taking care of the ‘dirty work’ of their beloved pet. I lived alone. No one was going to do it for me—I did not have this luxury. Could I really handle doing ALL of the pet care and maintenance alone and how would my health be affected?

Pets and kidney disease

The ‘average’ person did not have to think about safeguarding a life-saving organ transplant and any potential dangers. My health was first. I would never ever put my second kidney transplant at risk. My parents were discouraging about me taking on this cat care responsibility of much more work while possibly jeopardizing my health. My friends did not know what to say. Transplant recipients tried to reassure me and asked if someone else could help with the kitty litter and feces clean up. My transplant center and transplant nephrologist said that I would be just fine. I slowly let go of the idea of having my very own cat and eagerly and appreciatively continued on with “Paws Crossed.” However, one by one, each cat that I fell in love with was taken away to their new home. It hurt like heck, but it made me happy that maybe I had a little positive part in their new home and family. Love is a losing and winning game.

Pets and kidney disease

Everything changed when I met Ricky. He belonged to a friend of a friend who had a farm and was overwhelmed and very open to someone giving Ricky a loving home. Ricky had a very distinctive loving, social, and friendly personality. Prior to making the final decision to bring Ricky home with me, I was in contact with his vet, obtained medical records, and had him undergo an extensive medical exam, including testing him for Toxoplasmosis and Bartonella (the results came out negative) and ensuring he was free from parasites, worms, and fleas. His health came through with flying colors. To me, Ricky was the perfect ripe adult age of 6-years-old, as I preferred adult cats and even senior cats over kittens because kittens required even more work that I could handle. It shocked me when people showered me with accolades that I was some sort of martyr for adopting Ricky when he was an ‘older cat.’ I was much more connected and drawn to the ‘older’ cats that were difficult and even impossible to adopt. Kittens would be adopted. Older cats would not. I could not believe how ‘too good to be true’ Ricky was with impeccable health and a winsome personality. It was meant to be.

Pets and kidney disease

I was scared, concerned, and even fearful for what was to come as I NEVER had a pet before in my life, but when I caught apprehension overcoming me, I pep talked myself: “Mary, you have dealt with over 30 years of health challenges-two kidney transplants, a hysterectomy, hip replacement surgery, and the list goes on. You have been your own best health advocate. You got this. You and Ricky are going to be okay.” My anxieties eased; I would find a way to take care of my health and safeguard my second kidney transplant as well as take care of Ricky. It would be difficult, but I knew that when there are such beautiful parts of life as love and giving others chances that it is all worth it. My health journey has taught me many treasured lessons, but probably the greatest one was this: Where there is a will, there is a way. Everything would work out.

Ricky and I have been together for about a month. There were and still are days of meow meltdowns, Ricky vomiting from the different experimentations in food, kitty litter learning and cleanings, and readjusting my time and life. The vacuum has become my best friend.  I dutifully wear a pair of gloves and mask when cleaning up the kitty litter and feces. I keep a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, Neosporin, and band aids handy for the scratches that Ricky has marked on me and to come. I hand wash thoroughly after petting Ricky and bathroom clean up. I administer a monthly flea/tick/parasite/worms ointment on him. The biggest challenge has been blocking off my bedroom so Ricky is unable to come in and take ownership of my bed and of me with his paws that have been in kitty litter and who knows wherever else, but I have bent a bit with letting Ricky sleep at my feet in my only air-conditioned living room on these hot and humid New York nights. “Paws Crossed” and many good friends continue to support and help me out. It has been a balance of precautionary measures of my health and taking on a kitty cat that I never imagined ever doing in my lifetime.

Pets and kidney disease

When Ricky curls up in my lap, I know that this is a form of love that I have never experienced and am learning and living through. I am exhausted, yet enjoying every single moment. Love is about giving and taking chances. Love is a knowing that you will eventually lose or there will be a loss and it will hurt like hell and be as risky as heck as nothing and no one lasts forever, but to keep on loving and risk-taking because a little love goes a long way as the greatest gain.


I never thought an 8-pound furball could teach me so much about unconditional love, giving, and therapy. Thanks, Ricky—you and all the special animals and pets in our world teach us so much and are worth it all.


Mary Wu is a two-time kidney transplant recipient and active advocate in the organ donation/transplant and kidney community. She is also avid swimmer, traveler, foodie, and lover of life and living it to the fullest. To learn more about her, please go to “The Wu Way” at TheWuWay.com or her autobiography “Confessions of a Kidney Transplant Recipient” available at Amazon.

To learn more about the animal rescue “Paws Crossed,” please go to PawsCrossedNY.com


Posted August 1, 2017

Web ID 7023