By Kristin Avery
Some cats, like some humans, travel a bumpy road in life. Through no fault of their own, they are bounced from one home to the next, surrendered to shelters or left to fend for themselves on the streets. Cleo was one of these cats.
By the time Cleo was surrendered to the shelter, she had already loved and lost three different homes. Her first home (that we know about) was with an elderly woman who loved her very much. When her companion grew sick and moved to a senior home, Cleo went with her. After she passed away, Cleo remained at the facility, but kept mostly to herself, surely grieving the loss of her friend.
Ann worked at the facility as a nurse. She took an instant liking to Cleo and brought her treats each day. After gaining her trust, Ann decided to bring Cleo home. They enjoyed a lovely year together, but then she married a man who didn’t like cats. He called the shelter where I worked at the time, and asked if we could take Cleo. He claimed that he had allergies and needed to place her right away. I told him we could add her to our waiting list. Ann called the next day and pleaded with us to take Cleo. She admitted that her husband didn’t really have allergies and that he was keeping Cleo locked in the basement, threatening to harm her if we didn’t take her immediately.
The next morning Ann brought Cleo to the shelter. She gave her a new blue rhinestone collar and a pink bed for her cage before saying a tearful good-bye. Clearly, their bond was strong. I promised her that I would make sure Cleo was well cared for and hoped she would also take care of herself. Unfortunately, I never heard from her again, but I kept my promise and cared for Cleo until the end.
Cleo did not adjust to shelter life very well. She didn’t care for the other cats and was a bit choosy about which humans she allowed to pet her. Adopters skipped right over her – an older, black, crabby cat was a tough sell. Cleo had been hurt and it showed, swatting and hissing at even the most well meaning and kind volunteers. She also had a distinct, sharp meow that combined with her swats, scared people and other cats away. But for whatever reason, she loved and trusted me. She enjoyed riding around on my shoulders and would be waiting for me in the front window when I arrived each day.
Cleo lived at the shelter for three years. The stress of shelter life took its toll and she grew more irritable and unpredictable. At age fifteen, she was diagnosed with kidney failure. She stopped eating, lost a bunch of weight, and her health plummeted. The shelter vet asked if I would consider bringing her home for hospice care. I already had four cats and taking another one seemed a stretch even for me. But then, I remembered my promise to Ann and I agreed.
At the end of the day, I packed Cleo up in a carrier and off we went. And the most amazing thing happened on the way home – she started purring and pretty much never stopped. Standing in the front of the carrier, she looked out at the world with curiosity and joy. The tension and frustration that had filled her eyes for three years was gone.
Although Cleo wasn’t crazy about our other cats, she embraced our home with enthusiasm and gusto. She eventually joined the others for naps on the warm radiator, curled up under the covers with us at night, and pranced happily out to the kitchen for breakfast each morning. She even warmed up to other humans besides me and would greet visitors at the door with her distinct meow. Friends from the shelter couldn’t believe she was the same cat. Her levels stabilized and even improved a bit and the vet was amazed by her health and vitality. She celebrated several holidays with us and was even around for the birth of my daughter, and miraculously lived two more years! And when her time came, she went in peace, surrounded by family, her spirit healed from the turmoil of early life.
I know we were very lucky to have so much time with Cleo and not all hospice cats have such remarkable second acts (or in Cleo’s case, fourth act). However, I truly believe hospice foster care is the ultimate gift for a homeless cat (or dog) that has been bounced around or perhaps never experienced the comfort, security and love of a real forever home. We have provided hospice care for several other cats since losing Cleo. And while none of the others lived as long, I take comfort knowing that their final days were in a home filled with love and comfort.
Shelters are filled with senior cats waiting for someone to see beyond their cloudy eyes, tired limbs, and bruised hearts. Some of these animals have known loving homes but many others have not. They have much to share and when given a second chance, their gratitude and love is immense.
This holiday season why not give the ultimate gift – visit your local shelter and inquire about fostering a senior or hospice cat or dog today. While your time together may be brief, fostering a hospice animal will help you appreciate and celebrate the moment and truly change the way you see the world. Please consider opening your home to homeless cat or dog today because second chances are amazing whether you are on the giving or receiving side.