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Don't let the cat out of the bag

The author and editor, age 7, with Mary-Cat.1 / 3
Brooke Anderson of Animal Allies cleans the ears of this cat which is in a "burrito wrap" while Amanda Bruce holds it. (Photo by Naomi Yaeger)2 / 3
Kyia Plummer of Animal Allies handles a wrapped cat. With the arm extended it would be ready for a procedure like a blood draw. (Photo by Naomi Yaeger)3 / 3

Every once in a while, I hear new information that changes a script that I have played in my mind. For the past several decades, I had believed that my father had been rather mean to our pet cat by putting her in a burlap sack when he took her to the vet.

Other than a turtle I had when I was 3, that cat was my first pet. Her fur was shiny and sleek, a solid gray from head to toe with beautiful green eyes. I named her Mary, and this was back in the day when people weren't giving people names to pets. I remember an adult made fun of me for giving her a human name, so sometimes I would call her "Mary-Cat." That cat followed me around like a dog.

Back in the late 1960s, Dad put Mary-Cat in a burlap sack and threw the sack (or gently placed it, depending on how the story is told) in the back of our Oldsmobile to drive to the veterinarian.

Dad relished in telling the story. "That cat didn't know what hit her," he would laugh as he told the story. At the time I thought the tone of his laugh was dastardly. Once the cat and my father arrived at the veterinarian, the cat was not let out of the bag. The vet just stuck the needle through the burlap and gave her a vaccination.

My dad could be rather rough with our pets. All these years I believed that he had been cruel to our cat by tricking it into a burlap bag and having the vet give it a shot while still in a bag.

But a couple a weeks ago I observed veterinarian Amanda Bruce teaching low-stress handling techniques for cats to the staff of Animal Allies. Now I have had a paradigm shift in my head.

"That was probably a low-stress way to handle the cat," Dr. Bruce said about my pet feline tricked into a burlap sack. "The bag provided stability."

With a hand marked with an old scratch, Dr. Bruce grabbed cats and kittens at the animal shelter and wrapped them up like a burrito with a towel. In fact the "burrito wrap" is the actual name of one of the wraps. The other wrap is called the "scarf wrap." Dr. Bruce said she hopes that veterinary staff will prevent injuries to themselves with these wraps.

The wrapped cats seemed like they were fine with the whole procedure. One cat purred while snug in a towel.

Dr. Bruce says that fear of veterinary visits is one of the primary factors that keeps owners from taking their pets, specifically cats, to the vet for a regular check-ups. She says for some owners, just thinking about taking their pet to the veterinarian is stressful.

"These towel wrapping procedures are intended to make cats feel secure," she said. "When we have a procedure, such as an ear-cleaning or a blood draw that is likely to escalate a cat's fear and anxiety, these wraps should be used.

"Think of cats, how much they like to hide and be under things ... You are just stabilizing them in any direction so that if they know they can't move ... they just give in." She said owners could try these techniques at home when trimming nails.

So when it comes to taking a cat to the vet, father really did know best.

Naomi Yaeger

Naomi Yaeger is a freelance writer and the former editor of the Budgeteer. See her blog at