For Jen Johnson, it’s no exaggeration to say her cats saved her life. Disabled since she was 28, Johnson, now 39, suffers from hidradenitis suppurativa, a chronic inflammatory skin condition resulting in the development of skin lesions and infection of sweat glands. According to Johnson, the condition can be life-threatening and also leads to depression and social isolation.
“It’s a very lonely, debilitating disease, and 100 percent, without my cats I would not be here,” she says. “There are times where I haven’t wanted to get out of bed for three days, and having these cats has made me do it. It’s given me a purpose and helps me to cope with each day, because I may just stay in bed for a whole week if I didn’t have them.”
For as much as Johnson’s five rescue kitties have given her, she has given them plenty of love and care as well. Johnson has always been a cat person, but she has a special place in her heart for Persians – in fact, all five of her cats are either Persians or Himalayans. When she started adopting the breed nearly 15 years ago, she quickly discovered Persians are more than just sweet kitties in a cute, fluffy package.
“At first I thought they just needed a little love and TLC, but I’ve realized with Persians it’s so much more,” she says. “People get them as pets or gifts and think they’re just these fluffy little cats, but they require so much work — healthwise, grooming, eye care, ear care. I’ve dumped thousands of dollars into these cats.”
The payoff, however, has been worth it, with each kitty enriching Johnson’s life in distinct ways.
Johnson adopted Woolard from the Humane Society. Right away, his distinctive furry face stood out — but Johnson already had three cats at home, and she wasn’t sure she could handle a fourth. (Little did she know that a year later she would have seven.) She thought about it for a week, and when she returned to the Humane Society, Woolard was still there. That’s when she decided to take the cat home.
“His little quirk is that he drools all the time,” Johnson says. “He’s always wagging his tail, he’s always in a super good mood, and he’s always drooling, especially when he’s purring.”
Johnson rescued Ruby from a backyard breeder who was trying to make munchkin Persian kittens, leaving poor Ruby with a lot of health problems — and also the bad habit of suckling fuzzy blankets and, occasionally, the other cats. But her health problems haven’t stopped her from giving all the love she has to offer.
“She’s five years old, and her intestines are all messed up,” Johnson says. “She’s got a long body with little tiny legs and a little tiny head. But she’s the best snuggler I’ve ever had, and she’ll play with anyone. She loves kids, dogs, animals, old people — she just loves attention.”
Johnson rescued Snuffy from a breeder who was shutting down her cattery and couldn’t sell the two-year-old cat because “people just want kittens,” Johnson says. When Johnson talks about Snuffy, she’ll quietly admit that he’s her favorite (come on, we’ve all secretly got a favorite). Thanks to a sinus issue, everyone knows when it’s nap time for Snuffy.
“This dude snores louder than my dad did,” Johnson says. “He snortles and snorts and when he’s eating and drinking, he makes a lot of noise. I’ve heard him snoring so loud he actually vibrates the bed.”
Old Man had a rough start in life. Rescued from an apartment building after his owner was deported, Old Man’s fur was so matted that his chin was stuck to his chest. His armpits were also heavily matted, forcing him to crawl very low to the ground due to a limited range of motion. It took the groomers a long time to chip away at his mess of hair.
“We didn’t know if his hair would ever grow back,” Johnson says. “He knows he was rescued from a dire situation. When the groomers come over, he rubs all over them. He loves the groomers because he feels they were part of his lifesaving experience.”
Of Johnson’s cats, Cleo has probably been through the most. One day Johnson’s ex-boyfriend called and said his neighbor had a cat “he was about to throw out the window” if someone didn’t come get it. Naturally, Johnson said she was on her way. Poor Cleo had irritable bowel syndrome because of pica, a condition that causes her to eat nonfood items, such as candy wrappers, cigarette butts and straw. Cleo is much happier today living with Johnson’s brood, but some ill effects from her past still linger.
“Cleo and Snuffy have severe anxiety,” Johnson says. “I think it’s because of their living situations. But I have anxiety too, so we all just have anxiety together.”
As for Persians, Johnson is quick to point out the many ways the breed is awesome.
“I have a very special connection to all animals, but Persians are so chill,” Johnson says. “I think they know they’re really pretty, so they kind of act like that. It takes a very special person to own a Persian because there’s so much involved. But they’re just the sweetest, nonjudgmental — they really don’t require anything from me besides the love I can give them.”