This is FrankenStern – the only cat like him in the world, we’re pretty sure. With his unique third ear (he even has 3 ear canals), a 3rd eye socket, an adorable crooked jaw and angled teeth, and exaggerated John Wayne swagger, we loved him at first sight.
Years ago, my wife Cheryl and I were volunteering at an animal rescue shelter (as we still do), a no-kill shelter. We had volunteered to care for pregnant feral cats, or thing them and once the kittens were old enough, bring them to the shelter for adoption. In some cases we also helped birth the kittens if the mama needed help. One day when we dropped off the next litter, we ventured to the area where our other “kitten munchkins” were housed, awaiting adoption.
The moment we walked through the door, this captivating feline made his way from the back of the room straight toward us with that John Wayne hip swagger, strutting like he owned the joint.
“Who is this? What’s his story? ” we asked the shelter manager.
“This is Franken,” she said, “He and another cat were abandoned in a vacant low rental in the North End.”
Cheryl and I exchanged a look. Every week we’d hear stories of cats being abandoned in houses from which they couldn’t escape. And those weren’t even the worst stories. As much as we heard these stories frequently and weren’t surprised by them, we were still shocked at the brazen inhumanity of it every time.
“Whoever left them had only left the cats a single bag of dried noodles,” she continued, “which had been torn open and licked clean.”
“We don’t know how long they’d been left there. One of the humane society staff who also happens to volunteer here, she continued, “They took the cats to the Humane Society and Franken was immediately scheduled to be killed. Apparently they felt he had too many challenges and put the little less than 1 year old munchkin on the list to be euthanized! This staffer broke into tears and took him away and to the shelter and that chance moment brought him to us, literally begging us to house him instead. Of course we said yes!”
I looked at Cheryl with that look she knows so well. The “we have to do something” look. She nodded invisibly. “Tell you what,” we said to the shelter manager, “we’re going on a short trip, but if this adorable creature isn’t adopted by the time we get back, we’ll make him a part of our family.”
The manager smiled. “Sounds great! ”
When Cheryl and I left that day, the shelter manager secretly placed a note on Franken’s cage that read, “Adopted”. When we returned, Franken happily swaggered into the carrier to come home with us. We gave him our last name, which made him FrankenStern, and he’s been stealing our hearts ever since.
He’s been a part of our family for several years now, and he’s been a real trooper through the many ailments and physical challenges his deformities have blessed him with. He has three ears, but can’t hear. His esophageal muscles don’t work properly, so he needs assistance swallowing. Hyperthyroidism, digestive issues, and a host of other ailments are just part of his everyday life. Ours too.
He’s been to the vet so many times, it’s not even alarming to him anymore. He knows what’s coming and settles in.
Our FrankenStern has been such a blessing. He’s been such a gift in our life – one that’s actually changed me and made me a better person. I know that sounds like an incredible feat for a cat, but it’s true. Those moments when he’s slept on my arm or when I’ve massaged the food down his throat as he sits there happily and gratefully accepts the help – those have been great bonding moments for us. And that swagger! Oh, it’s priceless. Cats generally walk around like they own every place they’re in, but when you add that John Wayne swagger, it’s impossible not to stop and stare and smile. He’s the boss and he knows it.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had the pleasure and honor of adopting your own feline family member, but if you haven’t, you’re missing out. If you have, the you know just what I’m talking about when I say this guy has captured my heart and changed my life.
Recently he became ill. Deathly ill. His appetite disappeared and he became lethargic. Not himself at all. Cheryl and I knew this was the end. With tears in our eyes, we each bent over his weakening body and said our goodbyes. My heart broke as I kissed him and ran a hand over him for what might have been the last time. He was even too weak to be put through a ride to the vet, so the vet was called to the house to put him to sleep.
An hour or two after I called to arrange the vet visit, FrankenStern suddenly perked up. Maybe it was the meds. Maybe whatever storm had been sweeping through his body was passing. Cheryl and I didn’t know what to make of it, but we cancelled the vet’s appointment and kept a close eye on our furbaby.
Hours passed and FrankenStern continued to improve. Soon he was eating again. I don’t know if we’ve ever celebrated so much about a cat eating wet food, but we sure celebrated then! Our furry Franken was back! Maybe we didn’t have to say goodbye yet after all.
That was just days ago. So far, he continue to improve, and we continue to feel relieved and very grateful. For those who have been following on Facebook, thank you so much for your thoughtful comments and prayers. It means a lot to have you with us on the journey.