When You Can’t Look Away

Thomas had the kind of face that makes you want to avert your eyes and look away.  In fact, that’s exactly what countless people had been doing for the better part of the past six years.  However, on one fateful day in early March, the stars aligned and set off a chain reaction that reached from Maryland to Delaware and as far north as Rhode Island.

“I was just scrolling through our rescue newsfeed and saw this pathetic looking cat.  His name was Thomas and he looked so defeated and broken, I just wanted to cry.” 

It’s not surprising that a pitiful looking animal would stop Renee Martini in her tracks, but there is a certain irony that this pitiful animal happened to be a cat.  Renee is Founder and President of Renee’s Rescues in Delaware and since 2014, they have focused exclusively on saving dogs – puppy mill survivors, abuse victims and seniors who find themselves abandoned when old age and illness set in.  It’s not that Renee has anything against cats, but since childhood – she has been deathly allergic – the kind of allergic that requires a trip to the ER in order to breathe.

“I knew nobody was going to adopt this cat and I just couldn’t bear the thought of people walking by his cage while he was in such misery.”  

That knowledge prompted Renee to do something she had never done before. She picked up the phone, called Abigail Bingham, Executive Director of the Cecil County Animal Shelter and said, “Can you transfer Thomas to Renee’s Rescues?”  I imagine Abigail was momentarily stunned at this request from a well-known “dog only” rescue but given Renee’s reputation and past history of pulling Cecil County pups, I’m sure Abigail knew this kitty would be in good hands.  The next call Renee made was to a close friend who had recently lost her own cat to see if she’d be willing to pick Thomas up and get him straight to the Windcrest Animal Hospital.

Meanwhile 70 miles away in Baltimore, it was my day on Soft Side Facebook duty and as I’m scrolling through my newsfeed, I froze when I saw Renee’s post.  Thomas’ face told a story of such hardship and pain that I couldn’t look away.  I immediately texted Dan, our Twitter guru, to see if maybe he’d be willing to foster, followed by Caroline, who manages our Street Kitty Fund, to ask if we could possibly stretch the rules to help with Thomas’ medical costs?  (Our Street Kitty Fund is for Baltimore-area cats, but hey – Thomas did come from Maryland.)

Meanwhile, word came back from Windcrest Animal Hospital that Thomas had a lot going against him.  For starters, he was FIV+ and his blindness was probably caused at an early age by Feline Herpes passed along by his mother.  He was anemic, dehydrated, had suffered a leg fracture at some point, and had dental disease so severe that the infection had spread to his sinuses and ears.

Life on the streets is not a kind one and Thomas’ broken body and spirit were proof of that.  Judged to be at least six years old, you had to wonder how he had survived all these years. And how many hundreds of people, over the course of those years, had crossed his path and looked away until one kind soul finally had the heart to pick him up and take him straight to the shelter?  That question is one that haunts me to this day.

Behind-the-scenes, we were getting constant updates from Renee and, on March 10, tweeted a video of Thomas getting belly rubs at his current foster home.  This was the same kitty who was so terrified a few days earlier that he had defecated in his carrier during his freedom ride and had to be anesthetized in order to be examined, yet was now rolling on the floor, purring and giving head bonks. It wasn’t enough to find this kitty just any home, it had to be a home truly deserving of his incredible determination to live and his innocent forgiving heart.

Fostering is a family affair as proven here by Emma, daughter to Renee’s Rescues VP, Chelsea Kirk.

Talk about coincidences. As I was wracking my brain for who might be a likely candidate, we received a private message from one of our Twitter friends inquiring about Thomas.  It seems he had gone to Renee’s Rescues website but couldn’t find any mention of a cat.  I explained the situation and crossed my fingers, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up. Yet.  

The next day, Thomas was admitted to the Animal Veterinary Center for extensive dental surgery and treated like the miracle kitty he is. In fact, he even got a cuddle from Auntie Renee who was wrapped in three layers of PPE, with handfuls of cotton stuffed inside her mask and rubber gloves to avoid a call to 911.   As only the second time in her life touching a kitty, she did have a momentary panic attack.  “He’s vibrating – what’s going on?” 

Yep, Thomas, with only 7 teeth left in his poor little mouth, was actually purring in his sleep.

Since then, we have been glued to the daily videos and photos of Thomas coming into his own.  I didn’t think anything could make me happier than seeing this formerly beaten down boy now reveling in a cushy bed and human love.

Turns out, I was wrong. 

A few days ago, we learned that our Twitter friend who, for the sake of his privacy, I’ll refer to as” Coach” has been approved as Thomas’ new Dad.  Not only will Thomas have a father who is willing to make the necessary changes to help this blind kitty adapt to life in a new home, but he’ll also be gaining a kitty sister – a three-legged rescue named Trinity.  To give you an idea of how perfect this adoption is, knowing that Coach lived in Rhode Island – we offered to arrange for volunteer transport.  Coach turned us down.  He didn’t want Thomas to be handed off to multiple people so instead, once Thomas is medically approved to travel, Coach will be headed south to meet and bring his newest family member home.    

This story could have ended far differently and certainly has for many other abandoned street cats.  But as Renee told me, “I believe in fate and this all happened for a reason.”  I couldn’t agree more.  This happened because of a number of people – some of whom we know and others we don’t – saw a cat in dire need and refused to look away.

Note: If you’d like to support the work of Renee’s Rescues, you can click here to visit their website. And we’re hoping Coach will keep us all up-to-date on how Thomas is faring.