Last July, a woman saw a four-month-old kitten get tossed from the window of a moving car. She stopped to pick up the tiny tuxedo cat and he ended up at a feral cat rescue before arriving at Wayward Whiskers Cat Rescue, a shelter in San Antonio, Texas, that focuses on special-needs cats.
A vet visit and X-rays revealed that the kitten, named Magic Mike, had a diaphragmatic hernia, meaning his intestines had shifted into his chest cavity and were putting pressure on his lungs. He also had a badly broken tail that needed to be amputated. He was struggling to breathe. He required immediate, costly surgery in order to survive.
Thanks to the persistence of Sherry Pfau, founder of Wayward Whiskers, Magic Mike was able to get the surgery he needed. After appearing on the local news, Pfau was able to raise $4,000 in two days. Magic Mike even got a forever home out of the deal when a client at the vet’s office fell in love with him and adopted him after he recovered.
“Magic Mike had the surgery and did wonderfully,” Pfau says. “He had a fighting spirit. He’s living the high life in a penthouse now with another tux kitten that looks like his twin.”
It was a desire to help cats like Magic Mike that inspired Pfau to open Wayward Whiskers in January 2013. Animal overpopulation is problematic in San Antonio — particularly among cats, who Pfau says are “overlooked” compared to dogs. When Wayward Whiskers was founded, it became one of the few cats-only rescues in the area. The shelter houses an average of 20 to 40 cats and kittens, who live in free-roaming rooms. In 2013, Wayward Whiskers did 64 adoptions; so far this year, they’ve done 14.
“I’ve always loved cats; I think they are amazing pets, even though a lot of people think of them as aloof and independent,” Pfau says. “I’ve never met a cat I didn’t want to cuddle. I wanted to bring more awareness to how great cats really are and remove some of the ‘crazy cat lady’ stigma that seems to follow cat people around.”
Pfau may have opened Wayward Whiskers last year, but her desire to help homeless animals started much sooner than that. Like many people involved in animal rescue, her feline fascination began early; in fact, she’s been taking in strays since she was a kid, before she even understood the concept of “rescue.” She just knew that she wanted to help out.
“I had been rescuing cats since I was five years old, and a black-and-white cat wandered up to our house,” Pfau says. “I was the first person to see it and of course said those four words every parent fears: ‘Can I keep it?’ As I got older, I was always taking in strays on my own, getting them fixed, and finding homes for them before the word ‘rescue’ was even on my radar.”
Thanks to Wayward Whiskers, special-needs cats who “most people won’t look twice at” have gotten another chance — and many of them have found forever homes. Pfau has rescued cats with one eye, three legs, cerebellar hypoplasia, broken backs, hip replacements, feline leukemia, FIV, fungal infections — the list goes on and on. Wayward Whiskers has a place for these cats, and Pfau is dedicated to doing what it takes to help them heal.
“If they’re mangy, broken, or sick, I want them,” Pfau says. “No one will adopt a cat when they have to spend a ton of money right away to get them well. We pull those cats from the shelter and nurse them back to health so that they have a chance to find their forever family.”
Unfortunately, sometimes the cats don’t make it, and Pfau says that is the hardest part of the job. Recently, Wayward Whiskers took in a cat named Angel, who was suffering from a severe fungal infection that dramatically affected the appearance of her face. Despite her deformity, Pfau did what she could to save the sweet black kitty, including tube feeding her and administering several different medications. Pfau says it was “heartbreaking” to lose Angel.
“Definitely the hardest part is that because we take in the sick, broken kitties, not all of them survive,” Pfau adds. “I’ve lost quite a few cats over the last couple of years, and it never gets easier, especially when they are young and I had hoped they had a good chance at recovery.”
Though the rescue world is challenging, as long as there are special-needs cats who need help, Wayward Whiskers will be there. In fact, Pfau is filling out applications to make her rescue a nonprofit organization. Her goal is to build a welcoming, state-of-the-art shelter that is comfortable and relaxing for the cats who live there.
“Special needs rescue is really tough, but at the end of the day the best feeling in the world is watching a cat who’s struggled to get better not only get better, but find an amazing home where they’ll never have to be neglected or abused again,” Pfau says. “I love seeing a cat who I thought would never get adopted find the absolute most perfect home.”
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