Since Clijsters and her feline partner Stosur have come to live at Mark and Karlinda Weiderick's home near Outlook, Sask., the two young cats have transformed the life of the couple's nine-year-old son, Peyton.
They're not just family pets: they're therapy cats for Peyton who has been diagnosed with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity and a sensory disorder.
That's why the Weidericks were devastated when their veterinarian told them that Clijsters would need extensive dental work to ease the pain in her mouth.
"We have Clijsters and Stosur because Peyton needs them, but we don't have the funds to afford extra care for them," says Karlinda. "When we saw the estimate for the work that Clijsters needed, we knew it was more than we could handle."
The couple didn't know what to do. Dental surgery was vital to Clijsters whose mouth was becoming more painful every day. It hurt for her to lick or swallow, and she was chattering her mouth in pain.
In desperation, Karlinda sent a message describing their situation to one of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine's (WCVM) Facebook pages. After exchanging several email messages, Karlinda received a call: if the Weidericks could bring Clijsters to the WCVM Veterinary Medical Centre (VMC), all treatment costs would be covered by the college's Good Samaritan Fund.
The fund, which was established in 2011, pays for medical treatment in situations where animals are ownerless or where they're owned by clients who are unable to pay for their care.
VMC director Dr. Duncan Hockley is gratified that the fund has been established so that veterinary services can be provided for animals such as Clijsters.
"Unfortunately, the Good Samaritan Fund is 100 per cent dependent on donations from supporters, and its availability depends on their continual help," says Hockley. "I hope that potential donors will consider directing their contributions to this valuable fund."
As the veterinary college's director of development, Jennifer Molloy often talks to potential donors about the benefits of supporting the Good Samaritan Fund. For example, the fund is valuable because it recognizes the significant role that animals-- such as Clijsters-- play in the lives of their owners.
"Hopefully, through the support of our donors, families like the Weidericks won't have to make difficult decisions based solely on finances," says Molloy.
"Each donation really allows us to help one more animal and one more family . Our animals are our family members and not easily replaced in our hearts to our homes."
When the Weidricks brought Clijsters to the VMC, Dr. Erinn Hilberry's initial examination confirmed that the cat had a debilitating dental disease called feline gingivostomatitis. This debilitating dental disease is often described as hamburger mouth due to the extensive inflammation it causes in cat's mouth.
Hilberry, a clinical associate in dentistry and a 2012 graduate of WCVM, recalls that Clijsters was in extreme pain and needed to have all of her teeth extracted. But two weeks after dental surgery, Clijsters' gums had already become pink and healthy and she was running around the house like a kitten again.
The clinician is optimistic that Clijsters won't need any further treatment, and she's happy that she was able to help Peyton and his family.
"It was a real joy to work with Peyton," says Hilberry. "He was just a sweet little boy who loves his kitty, and she has made such a big difference in his life. You can tell they have a special bond."
That special bond has changed Peyton's life and that of his family in the three years since the Weidericks adopted the two cats from the humane societies in Regina and Moose Jaw.
"Peyton was in Grade 1 at the time, and every day when he came home from school, he'd have a complete meltdown," says Karlinda. "Once we had the kittens, they'd meet him at the door, and he would calm. He'd pick up a kitten and rub his face on her and smell her, and once he was done, he'd put her down and be ready to be at home."
Clijsters and Stosur act as therapy animals by helping to ease Peyton's agitation during bedtime and other times of transition.
The animals' different personalities and behaviours fulfill different needs, and they often work as a tag team. Stosur, an active and playful kitty, provides important sensory stimulation by licking Peyton's face with her raspy, rough cat tongue. Clijsters likes to be cuddled, and Peyton loves to feel her soft chinchilla-like fur.
"They don't freak out at all when Peyton has a meltdown," says Karlinda. "If Stosur takes off because she's had enough, Clijsters is there for him to pick up. I think it's really good for him to have the variety of one that likes to play and one that just really wants to cuddle. They also still like to play with each other like kittens, and he loves watching them."
As he learns how to interpret his cats' behaviour and gain a better understanding of their feelings, Peyton is acquiring a skill that will hopefully help him to fare better in social situations. Karlinda points out that his pets are a constant for him and they provide a feeling of safety because they don't judge him; they just love him.
Karlina and Mark are grateful to the people who donated the WCVM's Good Samaritan Fund and made Clijsters' surgery possible.
"Peyton prayed really hard that someone would be able to help his cat, and we're so glad that the fund covered the surgery for us," says Karlinda. "For Peyton, Clijsters isn't just an animal; she's somebody that's very important in his life."
Written by: Lynne Gunville
If you would like to contribute to the WCVM Good Samaritan Fund, contact the WCVM Development Office (firstname.lastname@example.org; (306) 966-7268).
Reprinted with permission from WCVM Today (wcvmtoday.com).