When a Dallas man discovered Zeki crying under his deck on July 5, 2009, the gentle white kitten’s injuries were so gruesome that he nearly passed out. Someone had apparently skinned part of the cat’s lower back with a hunting knife.
Three and a half years later, Zeki works as a feline teaching assistant in Arden Moore’s hands-on pet first aid program, Pet Tech. Her luxurious fur has grown back, and she appears to love humans (and dogs, for that matter) unabashedly.
"It’s a sad and amazing story," says Dusty Rainbolt, who fostered Zeki for five months. "It’s kind of like a Christmas miracle, but this is a Fourth of July miracle."
No one will ever know exactly what happened to Zeki, but residents in the neighborhood where she was found speculate that someone lured the abandoned kitten out with food and then attacked her. Luckily for Zeki -ÔÇô and for anyone who has met this sweet feline ÔÇô- she got away.
Residents on the street, which Rainbolt says is more like a community, immediately rallied to help. An elderly woman named Edwina insisted on writing a blank check, in spite of her fixed income, to provide for her care. Another neighbor arranged for a rescue group, Animal Allies of Texas, to take her in. The group sought a foster home where Zeki could receive the daily care she needed to heal.
Rainbolt, an experienced foster caretaker in Dallas, responded to the call. She and her husband have fostered more than 700 "bottle babies" and kittens. Together they have helped more than 1,200 animals, including many trauma cases.
Zeki patiently allowed Rainbolt to cleanse her wound during twice-daily hydrotherapy sessions in the kitchen sink. Afterward, Rainbolt rewarded Zeki with what’s now her favorite treat: low-sodium deli turkey meat.
"She is a remarkable cat," Rainbolt remarks. "She never seemed to associate people with the horrible thing that was done to her."
As she healed, Zeki’s playful side began to emerge. She would initiate play with Rainbolt’s Dachshund, and the two would wrestle. Rainbolt also jokes that the cat has a knack for "deconstructionist art," biting chunks out of cardboard and paper to form interesting patterns.
But as much as Rainbolt loved Zeki, she couldn’t help but think about her friend, Arden Moore, a fellow member of the Cat Writers’ Association. Moore was grieving a cat she had recently lost to pancreatic cancer. And her 10-year-old Husky-Golden retriever mix, Chipper, loved cats. Plus, Rainbolt knew how well Moore took care of her pets, which also included Cleo, a Miniature Poodle-Basset Hound mix, and Murphy, another rescue cat. So she played matchmaker.
"I would’ve loved to have kept her, but I thought that Arden would be able to utilize her amazing people skills," she says of Zeki. "I had a feeling she was going to become a spokescat. She has the perfect disposition for it."
Animal Allies of Texas traditionally doesn’t allow out-of-state adopters, but it made an exception for Moore, a pet behavior consultant and author of 24 pet books.
On Christmas 2009, she brought the cat to her Oceanside, CA, home. Moore honored the cat’s Turkish Van heritage by naming her Zeki, which means "clever and courageous."
Her pet family quickly welcomed Zeki into its fold. Moore now proudly refers to her brood as the "Furry Fab Four." Zeki and Chipper got to know each other by sitting in the sunshine together, occasionally touching noses. The cats took to each other right away. They eat and play together, "rolling like tumbleweeds," as Moore puts it. Here’s a video of them wrestling:
"When we watch TV at night, she’s always on top of the sofa," she says. "She and Murphy will be facing each other."
Zeki now weighs about nine pounds and celebrated her third birthday (with low-sodium deli turkey, of course) on Nov. 15.
While she is more or less healed, her conjunctivitis requires frequent eye drops. Nerve damage she sustained during the attack causes her back legs to angle sideways. "But that doesn’t slow her down," Moore says.
Zeki enjoys spending time outside in Moore’s fenced-in yard, and she patiently allows Moore to put on her harness so that she can be outside safely. She steals the dog’s toys, bats around wads of paper, and shadow boxes with silhouettes on the wall.
"I still can’t believe this cat is so sweet and so confident," Moore says. "She should be really hissy, distrustful, and hiding under beds, and she’s none of that."
Zeki’s disposition is so calm and comfortable around people that Moore began using her as a model for her pet first-aid classes. During presentations, Zeki sits calmly on a table and allows Moore to wrap her in a towel, check her pulse, assess her gums, and attach a safety muzzle. She welcomes friendly pets from fans.
"I am trying to show people how to bring out the best in our pets and how they bring out the best in us," Moore says.
At the Cat Writers’ Association conference held in November in Los Angeles, Rainbolt saw Zeki for the first time in nearly three years. While Moore swears that Zeki recognized her, Rainbolt wasn’t so sure. During the conference, she called her husband and put her phone on speaker. As he spoke, Zeki began kneading her paws ÔÇô- "not just a little bit; this was a real physical reaction to his conversation," Rainbolt says.
She believes Zeki recognized her husband’s voice, and if so, she figures, perhaps she recognized her, too.
"It was so wonderful to see her happy and healthy," Rainbolt says. "As a foster mom, that’s all I can ask, is that the animals be able to live a happy, healthy life."
Follow Zeki’s adventures on her Facebook page, Zeki the Cool Cat.
Do you know of a rescue hero ÔÇö cat, human, or group ÔÇö we should profile on Catster? Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.