Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the January/February 2016 issue of Catster print magazine. Click here to subscribe to Catster magazine.
In June 2014, authorities entered a home in Belton, South Carolina. Nothing prepared them for what they found — more than 30 deceased cats, flies, filth, and an overwhelming stench that solidified the suffering and neglect the cats had endured.
Many of the cats still alive were barely clinging to life. But two survivors, Whiskers and Kathy, rallied a dedicated group of cat rescuers to give them a fighting chance at health, love, and a forever family.
Saving Southern Kitties works with Greenville County’s municipal shelter to help increase their save rate for cats. Debra Cucchiara, head of Saving Southern Kitties’ Greenville County team, was told about the Belton situation.
“We were asked to help,” said Susan Schreck, founder of Saving Southern Kitties. “Deb picks out the cats we have the resources to rescue. We knew we could help the two cats from Belton.”
Whiskers reached a weak paw through the bars at Deb as if to say, “Pick me.” Deb also remembered Kathy as a mama cat with a litter of kittens from her intake picture on the Greenville County shelter’s Facebook page, but now Kathy was alone. The effort to save the lives of these two cats was in motion.
Maryann Steinmetz, another volunteer with Saving Southern Kitties, stepped up to foster Whiskers and Kathy.
“We could never erase what they had been through, but we could give them a chance to go forward and live a ‘normal’ life,” Maryann said.
Susan described the severity of their conditions: “Whiskers and Kathy had not only severe upper respiratory infections, but they suffered viral infections. And Whiskers had fevers multiple times over 106 degrees and had severe conjunctivitis, which looked as if he had cataracts.”
Maryann took the cats home to provide the care they desperately needed.
“The plan was for medication, rest, good nutrition, careful observation, and lots of love and companionship,” she said. “Right from the start they had great appetites, took their medication without complaint, and played within the limits of their energy level.”
Over the next couple of months they gradually improved. Whiskers’ blood work had showed very abnormal liver function but then showed normal. With daily antibiotics and eye drops, Kathy fully recovered from her upper respiratory infection. Whiskers continued to have runny eyes and an occasional congested nose, but their activity levels increased as their health improved.
It was time for the next step, and Saving Southern Kitties wanted to keep the two friends together. They went to Jennifer Austin’s home for more fostering. Jennifer and her husband, David Kempka, who are volunteers and foster caretakers for the rescue group, couldn’t turn their backs on the cats.
“Whiskers and Kathy stole our hearts from the moment we knew about their situation,” Jennifer said, adding that when they arrived at their new foster home, Kathy was doing well, but Whiskers continued to have upper respiratory symptoms. “His immune system has been greatly compromised.”
Whiskers gave them a scare with spiking temperatures, but emergency medical care saved him twice. Through it all, Whiskers’ amazing personality made them smile.
“Whiskers is one of the most loving kitties we have ever met,” Jennifer said. “All he wants to do is be held and loved.”
After six months, the couple realized they had to adopt the cats.
“It is so difficult for us to fathom what the cats experienced in that awful house,” Jennifer said. “What I know is that Whiskers and Kathy will never have to worry about anything ever again.”
Saving Southern Kitties has spent more than $4,000 on the two cats’ recovery, but its commitment to every one of its cats is absolute.
“There were a few times when we didn’t think Whiskers would make it,” Susan said. “We really feel we’ve seen a miracle now that Whiskers and Kathy are healthy and happy in a home for good.”
Learn more about Saving Southern Kitties on Facebook.
About the author: Denise LeBeau is an essayist, writer, and editor. For seven years she has been a full-time writer for an animal welfare organization. She shares her home in Hampton Bays, New York, with two rescued Siamese cats, Flipper and Slayer, and two rescued moocher mutts, Parker and Zephyrella.