As CEO of Fur & Feather Animal Sanctuary, Nancy Sayle sometimes hates to turn on the computer.
“My emails are gut wrenching every day,” she says. “All I see are faces I can’t save.”
Fur & Feather is a small nonprofit group, and although Sayle has big dreams, in reality she’s limited in how much she can do to help. The organization focuses on special needs animals — the kind who are rarely adoptable — and she has only so much space.
But one day in early June as she scanned Facebook, a fluffy tuxedo cat looked at her from the newsfeed. His bulk filled the arms of the Castaic shelter worker who was using all her muscle power to hold him up for the photograph.
The description said, “37-pound PJ is in desperate need of help. It is a really struggle for cats this large and he is so very scared at the shelter. He is only six years old and very sweet. He cannot really walk well and being in a cage is the last thing he needs. He was surrendered because he couldn’t get into the litter tray any more but his owners say he is an indoor baby.”
That’s right, PJ was surrendered because his owners claimed he grew too big for his litter box. PJ’s time at the shelter was running out and he was in danger of being euthanized. Sayle scrolled down the post’s comments, looking for that one person who was going to step up for him.
She recalls, “There was a lot of, ‘Well, are you gonna do it?’ ‘I don’t know’ — that kind of back and forth crap — and I just said, ‘I’m going.'”
The next day, Sayle took the hour-long drive from the dry, brown terrain of the northwest San Fernando Valley to the even drier, browner area of Castaic. PJ was everything she expected him to be … and more.
“He was huge!” she says. “He’s like the size of an ottoman.”
She brought along an extra large carrier for the big guy, and she got him to walk into it. Then it took two people and a wheelbarrow to get PJ to Sayle’s car. But she felt all the effort was worth it.
“He’s a big lover,” she says. “He just seemed to me defeated, like, ‘Now what’s going to happen to me?'”
Sayle drove PJ to her regular veterinary clinic right away, but he didn’t get a full examination until the next day, and the news was not good. In addition to being morbidly obese, the cat had a host of issues, from hip dysplasia and arthritis (caused by the extra weight he was carrying) to serious dental issues (ulcerated gums and at least 10 teeth that need extraction) to the real reason he got dumped at the shelter: a raging infection that had him peeing a high amount of blood with his urine.
It took a lot of work to get PJ stabilized. He needed meds and a catheter. He also needed a feeding tube because, ironically, he had stopped eating and was losing weight at an alarming rate. Within a couple of weeks, he had dropped 10 pounds and the veterinarian was worried he would develop hepatic lipidosis, a life-threatening condition that happens when cats don’t eat. It took two stays at the clinic, but finally, after Fathers Day, PJ returned to Sayle’s sanctuary, where he is isolated in an enormous enclosure while he continues to heal. He also got a new name, thanks to a contest held on Fur & Feather’s Facebook page: Sir Winston.
In spite of all he’s been through, Sir Winston is a sweet-natured cat that solicits cheek rubs and loves to be scritched and petted. Now that he is lighter than he used to be (around 27 pounds at the moment), he is even playing a little. And the extra large litter box in his enclosure? He has been using it without an issue.
Sayle is furious that Sir Winston’s previous owners allowed him to become so overweight.
“He’s a huge project,” she says. “He’s a beautiful animal, but holy crap! I consider it abuse to do this to an animal, and then dump him on top of it.”
All his medical issues can be traced either to his weight, lack of proper veterinary care, or both. And even now, his weight continues to hinder his rehabilitation. X-rays are difficult because laying a cat this large on his side will constrict his lungs and he won’t be able to breathe freely. Although his mouth is painful, he can’t have dental work done yet because he’s too heavy to safely undergo the procedure. Even drawing blood is harder with a fat cat. And it will be a while yet before he can be taken to the holistic vet and given exercise sessions on a water treadmill — non-weight bearing exercise is a crucial part of his weight loss program. Sayle says her veterinarian has estimated that Sir Winston is looking at about six months of rehab before he is able to have a normal life — and search for a permanent home.
In the meantime, Fur & Feather has been stretched thin with the costs of taking care of Sir Winston’s many medical issues, and a YouCaring page has been set up to help with his expenses. While Sayle is glad she rescued the big guy, she wishes his people hadn’t overfed him, neglected him, and then dumped him at animal control. Sir Winston made it out of animal control with her help, but many other cats in his position aren’t so lucky.
“People think they’re just animals, and they’re not,” she says. “They’re family members, they’re your confidants, they’ll always love you. It just blows my mind.”
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