I volunteered for a rescue back around 2013 in Santa Clarita, California. It was a modest rescue run by a jovial older man in his fifties. I shot video and took photos of his rescue efforts and came to know a great bunch of gals in the process. I also updated the website.
One day a message came through the contact page from a man in Santa Clarita who had been feeding a black cat in the neighborhood. He took a picture and with it was a message that he was going to have to take this cat to the shelter because the landlord said he couldn’t keep it. Shelters kill animals, so it’s not a good option. It was a friendly cat with a limp, but it being so close to Halloween, he was afraid of some idiot doing something unthinkable to it, so it was going to be his last resort if none of the rescues got back to him about taking the kitty.
Something about the picture got me. I knew the moment I looked at it that this was going to be my cat, though I can’t say exactly why. I have always had a special fondness for black cats, but we already had a cat and a rabbit, and really did not have enough space for a new cat. Still, that face melted my heart instantly and through the course of our errands that day, I convinced my husband that we needed to intervene.
We grabbed our cat carrier and went to the apartment complex where the man lived. He was definitely a friendly kitty, but also would not get in the carrier. There was a woman mumbling from a room somewhere and the gentleman waited patiently, but every time I tried to put kitty in the carrier, he’d thrash so thoroughly that he would break free of my grasp. I must have tried ten times, exclaiming expletives and then chastising myself in my head because these people could be religious, just to turn around and do it again. Finally, I got him in and we took off. He was so freaked out he shat and vomited in the carrier on the way. I felt so bad for him.
We put him in a bathroom to keep him separate from our other kitty in case he had a virus he could transmit. Plus he was covered in vomit and poo. My husband was immediately attentive and tried to clean him up. It was the first of several wounds my husband would acquire from our new family member. Kitty cut his face because he was, naturally, protecting himself from a stranger.
After he was clean, we put him in his own room, awaiting his visit to the vet to make sure he didn’t have anything contagious. We also contemplated names. My husband was not happy that kitty mangled his face. It was just a scratch, but it was an attack, nonetheless, and attacks hurt more than just your skin. He wanted to name kitty “Napoleon.” Tiny, dictatorial, mean. I wasn’t so sure. He had definitely had some domestication because he could be so friendly. We were strangers but he was very easy, at first, to cuddle. It wasn’t until you got close for a period of time that he seemed to get anxious. But he did have behavioral issues. The second attack happened while my husband, the cuddle bug, was laying in kitty’s designated room with kitty on his belly and kitty’s eyes went black. Fine one minute, crazed the next. Everything would be fine and then something would happen. His eyes would go black, and whatever he was seeing in his head would cause him to lash out. I thought maybe he was actually gentle and made to be aggressive, so I suggested “Ferdinand” – as in Ferdinand The Bull. Sure, he’s a cat and cats are predators, but he’s probably a cuddle bug, too. And my husband, with every wound, was sure that we needed to find another home for him. But I knew if we really gave Ferd the chance to decompress and heal from whatever had happened to him, he and my husband would become gross cuddle buddies and I’d probably be the happy/jealous bystander of their bond.
He had a dislocated hip. No telling what happened there, but it was clear at least some of his issues might be coming from the pain he was experiencing. We had to do something, so we scheduled him for surgery to file down his femur bone so that the bones weren’t rubbing together. The only other option was to try to recreate the tendon that had snapped, but it came with three months down time and the possibility that it wouldn’t take. And the only difference was that he would be able to jump high or wouldn’t. He would forever after be an indoor kitty, so we had to go with the least invasive and debilitating option.
The surgery went well and he came home with a cone around his head. I still have the picture. He’s a thinking cat, so you can see him thinking. In the picture I took, with his shaved leg and zippered hip, he’s clearly thinking impure thoughts about harm to my body. But he was definitely sure to be past his behavioral issues! Right? Wrong. The episodes and anger still happened, so it was finally clear that it wasn’t just some sudden physical pain that set him off. Something else was going on, so we worked the problem from a different angle.
Our doctor prescribed “Kitty Prozac.” A dose of anti-anxiety medication. It helped! It calmed him enough to curb his murderous moments. Thing is, after about six months, I started to wonder if it wasn’t time to wean him off of it.
I like our cat doctor. Not only is the clinic cat-only, but she pronounces our kitty’s name with the appropriate Spanish accent, so it sounds like “Ferdi-nond” – stress on “nond.” Her sing-song affectation of his name always cracks me up. Anyway, I wanted to wean him off the meds and she suggested behavioral issues are usually lifetime issues. Still, I didn’t want him to adapt to us forever, we needed to adapt to him. The anti-anxiety medication was only supposed to aide his transition. It was not supposed to be permanent.
I’m happy to say that after we weaned him off slowly, he was fine! Ferdinand has not only become a super loving member of our family, smart kitty that he is, he is just as expressive talking as he was aggressive. His character and personality have moved from anger to communication. His meows are extremely nuanced. He asks questions, makes statements. He’s still prone towards aggression, but it’s measured and we are always very clear about where the line is and that line is never crossed. He wants us to wake up too early. He punctures some skin because he wants food five minutes ago. Can you blame him? And it’s never my skin that bleeds. And my husband’s skin barely bleeds, if at all. And he and my husband are gross cuddle buddies and I am the happy/jealous bystander of their bond.