Elizabeth has adopted, rehomed and rescued several animals over the years. She loves taking on a good challenge.
An origin story and an underdog story all in one
Who doesn't love a good origin story?
This one has drama, heartbreak, sorrow, rescue and a happy ending. What more could you want from an origin story??
Who doesn’t love a good Underdog story?
No, not the comic. Just a true story about the one individual you thought the least of, thought couldn’t possibly overcome the stack of cards raised against them… and yet they do. And to overcome it all and win the love of another hurting soul…
What more could you want from an Underdog story??
Well, this one has it all.
So, Let us begin.
Let's meet our characters, shall we?
First we have Avenger (aka Cuddles). A grumpy curmudgeon of a cat who had been horribly beaten in a jealous rage while protecting his owner from her abusive boyfriend.
Next, we have Christian. An autistic 8 year old boy who struggled to make connections to the other humans in his world.
We also are introduced to Beth. Mom. She wants her kids to be happy, well adjusted and be able to manage in a world they don’t entirely fit into. She has experience working at a Humane Society, volunteered for a vet and has a background in Abnormal Psychology. Needless to say, she has seen some really rough cases- both human and animal.
And finally, Johanna. Christian’s 11 year old sister. She loves everyone and everything. Especially animals.
And now to the story...
Christian was diagnosed with severe PTSD and Anxiety. He was having a hard time managing emotions, sleeping at night and controlling Fear Reaction to the neighbors’ noise. After lengthy discussions with his therapist, it was decided that he would benefit from an Emotional Support Animal.
I had volunteered at the Humane Society when I was younger so off to the ASPCA we went. We were going to adopt a cat.
When we arrived, they had a few cats ready for adoption. Christian walked through the aisle and looked at each of the cats... Nothing seemed to connect ... until he saw Avenger.
Avenger was a huge white cat with a grey heart-shaped spot on his head, sitting calmly in his cubicle waiting to be noticed. Christian noticed. He asked to see Avenger.
As soon as the door opened to his cubicle, Avenger stood up, stretched and jumped down (with quite a thud, I might add) and I realized he was missing his front leg. I immediately looked to the worker for an explanation.
"According to his paper here, he suffered an Unknown Traumatic Event which was why he was brought in. The vets had to remove his leg, wire his jaw because it was broken in three places and remove a few teeth. He is currently about 3 years old, neutured and in otherwise good health." She read it as if she were trying to sell me a car. I had to snicker.
"Is he healthy otherwise? Does he have any injury related issues that I need to be aware of?" As we spoke I watched this giant cat interact with my kids. He leaned in for head scratches and sat looking from one to the other without so much as a sound. Well, at least he was pretty mellow. "Nope. He is all set and ready to go home today if you want him"
Yeah. We wanted him.
All Clean and Handsome
In For a Surprise
We renamed Avenger as Mr Cuddles and brought him home.
Christian was thrilled! He had a new friend! Someone who he could sit with when he was upset. Someone he could play with. Someone who would understand him when he had a bad day...
Ultimately he was right but boy was it a long road before we got to that point.
As Cuddles settled into our home and routine, we learned a lot about him.
He had severe separation anxiety. At the time we lived in a studio apartment but he had to be under next to me at all times. He would startle when there were any loud noises including yelling, banging, doors opening or closing. He hated visitors. Not that we had any very often but whenever someone came to the door, he dove for the safety under the bed. He was terrified of shoes. (Not joking. He would hiss at them.)
He loved sitting in my lap. However, any time I moved my arm to reach for something he would try to swipe or bite me.
It became very clear very quickly this cat was a Hot Mess. Not exactly what I had signed up for at all. Now I had this cat who was, for all intents and purposes, what looks like PTSD who was meant to be an ESA for my son who has PTSD... This was not panning out the way I anticipated.
Christian learned very quickly when he yelled or spoke to loud that Cuddles would bite or run and hide. He wanted to be near his humans but almost couldn't handle it. This ended up being the turning point for us. Christian learned he needed to have an Indoor Voice- speak softer so he wouldn't scare the cat. It worked like a charm.
Shortly after bringing Cuddles home, Christian had a really bad meltdown. It was loud and messy and full of tears. Cuddles ambled right over next to Chris and sat there with him the entire time. He let Chris pet him and talk to him. He leaned against Chris to soothe him. In an instant I knew we had picked the right cat. Even though Cuddles had been through something immensely scary, he knew when one of his humans needed his love and he was willing to give it.
My next job: Fixing the broken cat.
History Revealed... and Treated.
After seeing Chris and Cuddles connect like that, I knew I had to figure out what happened to this poor animal... and then try to fix him.
So I started digging. I called the ASPCA to see if they had any records with more details about where Cuddles had come from, past home life, trauma history. Anything that would give me a clue. Initially they claimed they had no records at all.
I called my sister-in-law who was a VetTech and I asked her for some advice. She said it sounded like he had been beaten and gave me some suggestions to help with his anxiety.
My next stop was to PetSmart to pick up some Feliway, a pet bed, a slow feeder and a carrier.
Over the months, I worked with Cuddles.
He bolted his food, swallowing it whole. Instead of putting him on a feeding schedule, I left a bowl of kibble always available. I took his dish when he rushed his food and talked to him when he ate calmly. He began to trust that his food supply was consistent and always available. The easiest hurtle jumped.
Everything was sprayed with Feliway. His bed, my bed where he liked to sleep, the kids' beds, clothing. Anything that he would curl up in. Feliway is a pheromone- based spray that helps cats relax when they are anxious. That made a huge difference.
He hated shoes. That was an easy fix. We kept all our shoes in the closet. To this day if we leave shoes out, he will give them a wide berth but he no longer hisses at them.
Still, his history remained something of a mystery. Then, a year after his adoption, I got a call.
Someone from the ASPCA had some news for me regarding Avenger. They discovered he had been beaten pretty badly by his last owner. Well, not the owner, technically. Her partner. Apparently Avenger had been her favored pet. She took him to work with her and adored and spoiled him. At some point, she and her partner had gotten into an altercation and Avenger had tried to protect her. He got tromped. Badly. With a boot. He had been brought in with the injuries and the history not initially reported.
Now I had answers. Everything made sense. And, after another brief call to my sister-in-law, I had a better idea of how to help him.
* * *
At the time of the writing of this article, Cuddles has been with us almost 3 full years. He has made such progress. He is still incredibly grumpy and wants attention or affection on his own terms. He loves sleeping with Christian and grooming him while he sleeps. He still goes to Christian whenever he is upset and just sits with him. He loves catnip and laser pointers.
Our cat is finally acting like an ESA... a (almost) normal cat who loves his family and knows when they need him the most.