Angelina was abandoned at Red Door Animal Shelter in April 2003. She was found by the shelter dumpster in a box soiled with blood and fur. There was electrical cord wrapped around her neck and hypodermic needles near her tail. The man who clearly abused her and then dumped her stood across the street and laughed as we brought her inside. A few minutes earlier he had knocked on the door and told us that she was evil.
Angelina was in shock. She had clearly been tortured, repeatedly, for some length of time. I have worked and volunteered in shelters for years and have never seen anything like what I saw in her eyes - pure terror, trapped alive, suffocating and screaming inside. She refused to eat or drink for more than a week. We took turns syringe feeding her water and chicken and beef baby food. Our shelter vet warned that her psychological and emotional scars were so severe that she would not likely survive.
But thankfully, Angelina did survive. Once cleared from isolation, she was moved to a room with seven other free-roaming cats. Unfortunately, we soon discovered that she didn't like other cats and the feeling was mutual. The resident felines bullied her mercilessly and she even sustained an eye injury from one of her tussles with the other cats. She also started having trouble breathing and was soon diagnosed with stress-induced asthma.
For her own protection, she was relocated to the mailroom. A small, windowless room where only a few dedicated volunteers dared to visit her. Her chances of finding a home seemed slim - adopters just weren't interested in a cat with asthma and emotional issues. Even some of our most seasoned cat volunteers were uneasy around Angelina.
Over the years, Angelina learned to enjoy visitors as long as they played by her rules. If approached from the side and not directly head on, she even tolerated some light petting and brushing. She had a few special friends, two of her favorites were Chris and Linda.
I first met Linda in 2000 when the shelter opened. She and her husband, Chris, volunteered on Sundays. They visited the cats, did laundry, cleaning, and light repairs. Chris also spent many afternoons with Angelina. She liked him very much and even occasionally curled up in his lap. One Sunday, Chris just couldn't stand to leave her there alone any longer and so in April 2007, they brought Angelina home to foster.
Angelina is a senior cat now. She is deaf and arthritic, but happy and more at ease than any of us could have ever imagined she would be. Chris and Linda say they understand and respect her limits and accept and love her as she is. Although she never adjusted to life with their other cats, she now has an entire finished basement to herself and likes nothing more than to curl up with Chris and watch the Chicago Bears and Cubs games on their big screen TV. They have learned how to make things work - which means not picking her up or approaching her from certain angles.
I asked them what they have learned from life with Angelina.Linda says Angelina has given her the courage and confidence to get more involved in animal rescue and advocacy. Chris says that she has taught him that animals can find their way back no matter what they have gone through - though sometimes this means adjusting our own expectations and letting the animal take the lead.
While taking these photographs, I could hear Angelina purring,something I never would have thought possible twelve and a half years ago while force feeding her to keep her alive. Angelina has taught me much about patience and hope even in the darkest hours and that sometimes beautiful and amazing things emerge from the most horrific of circumstances.
Chris and Linda are shining examples of compassion and kindness in action and life choices. And all of us who know and love Angelina will be forever grateful to them for giving her the time and space to heal and the fairytale ending she most certainly deserves.
Please consider fostering or adopting a special needs cat because second chances are amazing whether you are on the receiving or giving side. If you enjoyed this post, please check out my posts on adopting a puppy mill survivor and adopting a paralyzed cat.
Saving one animal won't change the world, but for that one animal the world will change forever.