Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our January/February 2017 issue. Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.
He’s a cat with a big round head, wide blue eyes, and adorably crumpled ears: It’s hard not to fall in love with Lionheart. As the unofficial ambassador for Wayward Whiskers Cat Rescue in San Antonio, Texas, the 12-year-old ginger tabby is one of the most popular kitties on the nonprofit’s Facebook page, where he’s cuddling, stretching, and playing his way to hundreds of likes.
“Lionheart is one of the sweetest cats we’ve ever had,” said Sherry Pfau, Wayward Whiskers’ founder. “He was clearly someone’s pet at some point until he was thrown on the streets to fend for himself, but he still loves and trusts humans. We affectionately call him Grampa because he begrudgingly accepts the kittens that we have in foster, even occasionally letting them cuddle with him.”
Sadly, Lionheart’s loving personality belies many medical concerns. He was rescued in 2014 from an apartment complex, where a friend of Sherry’s had been feeding him.
At the time of his rescue, he was underweight and unneutered, and he was diagnosed with stomatitis, which causes swelling and painful sores inside the mouth. His collapsed ears were probably the result of hematomas caused by months or years of ear infections and/or ear mites.
Today, Lionheart’s health has improved, but he still requires ongoing medical care. In addition to regular dental work, he receives treatment for anemia, B-12 injections, and an iron supplement. He also tested positive for FIV. Due to Lionheart’s many medical needs, Sherry decided to permanently adopt the cat — and, naturally, she fell in love with him.
“We have had to monitor his health very closely, which requires several vet visits per year, and his treatments cost quite a bit,” Sherry said. “Most people are not willing to take on that cost or the daily feeding and medicating that he requires. I’ve [also] completely fallen in love with him and cannot imagine him going anywhere else!”
When it comes to cats with special needs, Wayward Whiskers regularly takes on animals that many other shelters won’t touch. Sherry said they’re able to treat and rehabilitate “the most horrific and severe cases” thanks to the support of their donor base, which is maintained mostly through the organization’s Facebook page.
“We have rescued hundreds of cats, about 80 percent of which are special needs in some way: deaf, blind, FIV, FeLV, cerebellar hypoplasia, paralyzed, broken legs, missing eyes, chronic infections, ringworm, mange, pelvic injuries — you name it, we’ve taken it,” Sherry said. “We want people to take a second look at special-needs cats because they are just as deserving of good homes.”
Wayward Whiskers makes a special effort to rescue FIV-positive cats and give them a good life, making them one of the only organizations in South Texas to take in cats infected with the incurable virus. Currently, 28 kitties from as far away as Missouri and New Orleans live in the organization’s FIV sanctuary, which includes an outdoor enclosure. Sherry said these cats are highly adoptable despite their diagnosis.
“They have amazing personalities and are friendly as can be,” she said. “Each one has their own silly quirks, like Obie, who loves to perch on top of the dryer, and Miguel, who likes to sit in the water bowl when it’s empty. These cats deserve to have loving homes, and FIV is not a death sentence, nor does it require a lot of extra money.”
At 12 years old, Lionheart is proof that FIV cats can live a long life, and with proper veterinary care, they can enjoy good health. Sherry is certain that if Lionheart hadn’t been abandoned and had received proper care, he wouldn’t have the health issues he has now. She also pointed out that FIV cats can live with non-FIV cats as long as they don’t fight.
“I personally have three FIV cats, including Lionheart, living with my non-FIV cats,” she said. “[Lionheart is] a great mascot for us because he gets along with everyone. He greets potential adopters when they come in and has a great following on our Facebook page — everyone loves him!”
Naturally, rescue isn’t without its challenges, and Sherry’s heart breaks every time she can’t save a cat. But seeing cats like Lionheart recover and thrive makes it all worthwhile, especially when he can help give other special-needs cats that same chance.
About the author: Angela Lutz is a freelance writer who loves yoga, fancy coffee, and the warm patch of sunlight on the living room floor. She lives in Kansas City, Missouri, with her three cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey, Phoenix, and Salvador.