In 2005, Elizabeth and Joshua Chase briefly fostered a young Bengal cat named Duke. After living with the couple for only a short while, Duke then found his forever home ÔÇô- or so Elizabeth thought. Elizabeth last spoke with Duke’s adoptive family in 2006, and the owners were happy and the cat thriving. It certainly seemed that all was well.
Then in February 2013, nearly seven years later, Elizabeth received a call from the Inland Valley Humane Society and SPCA in Pomona, California. Duke had arrived at the shelter in terrible condition, and when shelter staff scanned the cat’s microchip, they found Elizabeth’s contact information.
Apparently the couple who had adopted Duke had broken up and moved away, and in the chaos the cat had ended up on the street. Duke had been fending for himself for more than three years, a remarkable feat considering most displaced house cats survive no longer than a year.
"We pieced together the backstory that Duke was living in the neighborhood where his adoptive family had previously resided, and that he was being fed by various cat-loving neighbors," Elizabeth says. "One concerned neighbor noticed that Duke’s health had declined. The shelter staff told us that this lady brought him in when she couldn’t stand to see him in that condition anymore.”
It’s a good thing Duke made it to the shelter when he did. The cat was infested with mites, "so much that it was impossible to touch him with bare hands," Elizabeth says. His eyes were sealed shut, his body was covered with sores, and he was missing most of his fur. He was also severely underweight, weighing in at just seven pounds when his ideal weight is closer to 15.
“We were incredulous when we found out Duke had been lost and out on his own for three years,” Elizabeth says. “Knowing Duke, we can tell you he is cunning and quick, but he’s not ferocious nor alpha, so it’s pretty amazing that he survived.”
In the first six months of his recovery, Duke required approximately $3,000 worth of veterinary care. Elizabeth and Joshua raised funds online via GoFundMe and shared their cat’s story on Facebook. Over the course of a year, Duke’s health began to stabilize, including his digestive issues, which were his most persistent concern. He still takes prednisolone daily and receives a monthly vitamin B12 injection.
Originally, Elizabeth and Joshua were planning to keep Duke until he recovered and then adopt him out again, as the couple already has a rescue dog. But plans quickly changed, and Elizabeth and Joshua decided to “never let him out of our sight again." Since then, the cat’s idiosyncrasies have won them over.
"Duke is sweet and intelligent," Elizabeth says. "As I speak to you, though, he is chasing his tail. Some may say, ‘Well, then, no. He’s not intelligent.’ But only a smart kitty would realize: ‘My tail is the best toy money can’t buy! And I can take it everywhere!’ He will stare you down with those big, beautiful green eyes, and the look on his face is one of eternal surprise. It’s as if he’s still sizing up his situation, and I’d like to think that he’s asking himself, ‘How did I get so lucky?’"
Part of the reason Duke got so lucky was Elizabeth and Joshua’s decision to have the cat microchipped. If the shelter hadn’t been able to track down Elizabeth via Duke’s microchip, the cat would almost certainly have been euthanized. Since her miraculous reunion with Duke, Elizabeth has become an advocate for microchipping pets.
"If you love your pet and consider him or her to be a member of your family, then it is absolutely imperative to microchip," Elizabeth says. "The cost is so reasonable, there’s really no reason not to do so."
Elizabeth also recommends keeping cats indoors, especially in cities like Los Angeles, where "the perils far outweigh the ‘treat’ you may think you’re giving your cat." Instead of letting cats roam the neighborhood, Elizabeth suggests trying harnesses and playpens to give your cat a taste of the outdoors.
"Keep in mind the scale: Your house to your cat is the equivalent to what a giant arena would be to us," she adds. "There’s lots to do inside, including staying safe, unscathed, and disease-free. Oh, and not getting lost and gone forever is a bonus, too!"
Read stories of rescue on Catster:
More by Angela Lutz:
About Angela: This not-crazy-at-all cat lady loves to lint-roll her favorite dress and go out dancing. She also frequents the gym, the vegan coffee joint, and the warm patch of sunlight on the living room floor. She enjoys a good cat rescue story about kindness and decency overcoming the odds, and she’s an enthusiastic recipient of headbutts and purrs from her two cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix.