It is estimated that 3.4 million cats every year enter animal shelters and less than 2% of cats ever make it back to their owners. What's worse is how often a pet picked up by animal control has clearly been abused and/or mistreated and neglected. It's a stark reminder of how dark and cold society can be.
But not every harrowing tale stays in the darkness. Some pets, cats like Cotton, find the right person at the right time and slowly but surely break through to the light. Overcoming a mountain of obstacles and what some might call certain-death, cats like Cotton find humans like Carmen Weinberg, founder of Animal Friends Project Inc., and miracles happen.
This is Cotton and Carmen's story, bring your tissue box.
When Carmen received Cotton she took one look at him and was heartbroken. In an interview with The Dodo, she recounted her first thoughts upon seeing the cat:
He couldn’t even see or open his eyes because the mites were so bad, It must have been so scary for him out there not being able to see. He was all alone and so skinny because he couldn’t find food.
Quiet, injured, and sickly, Cotton huddled in the cat carrier, comforted by the warmth of an electric heating pad.
Mange, a type of skin disease caused by parasitic mites, was clearly having a profound impact on Cotton's skin.
With a calm demeanor, love, and grace, Carmen cleaned Cotton up the best she could.
Carmen began using creams, coconut oil, and various antibiotics to tend to Cotton's mange. She also began to help him regain his strength by feeding him "hearty" meals. She said:
We could just see his tense body start to relax as the days passed. He was finally able to rest without scratching so much.
Yet even knowing that Cotton was responding well to his treatment and car, the images you see of just how bad Cotton had it will put a pit in your stomach.
Without Carmen, Cotton would have had no hope. She said:
Cats like Cotton depend on people to heal, because they cannot always ask for help … I’m sure so many people passed him by because of how sick he looked, but he was just waiting for someone to give him a chance.
Cotton was indeed a cat, however like or unlike others is hard to say, but you can see it in the way he sits. You can almost hear the healing purr.
Cotton did not deserve to suffer like this.
Yet as time went on, love and treatment combined began to work it's magic. Cotton continued to act more like a normal cat every day.
Look at his little butt hike for scratches while he eats. So cute.
Carmen eventually turned to Facebook to share her story about Cotton. When he began to open his eyes, it was like an unexpected miracle and distinct signal that the efforts to heal Cotton were working.
Though Cotton was beginning to open his eyes, he still couldn't see. Clearly, however, he was being given a second chance at life and his spirit was running with it.
Carmen put a lot of time and genuine care into transforming Cotton. Her effotrs healed his seemingly never ending journey of health issues and then the real magic happened. Cotton fully opened his eyes and the moment would have taken anyone's breath away. Carmen described:
We thought he was blind, and that he would be blind forever. The vet thought that even when his eyes recovered they might be damaged, but they weren’t. It was such a wonderful surprise. His eyes were just beautiful.
Cotton has heterochromia, two different eye colors. One vivid blue, and one calming hazel... It was truly stunning to look him face to face.
It was suspected that even Cotton himself did not expect to regain hi eyesight and he took to Carmen like a bird in the sky. Carmen realized she was unable to give him up for adoption, but it wasn't because there wasn't a long list of people who wanted him!
We got so many applications for him due to his looks, but in the end, I saw how attached to me he had become. I didn’t have the heart to put him through another big change. He had already been through so much.
It's understandable, a lot of times when a foster parent heals a rescue pet from the brink of death to incredible health, their bond becomes unbreakable.
Plus, it's clear that Cotton loves Carmen very, very much.
This once sickly kitty, blind, and suffering severe mange, is now very clearly a normal cat.
Where Carmen lives and works in South Florida, there is a very serious overpopulation of cats, which means there is a huge problem with strays. In an interview with Bored Panda, Carmen talked about her important rescue work:
I decided to start Animal Friends Project after I saw the huge amount of homeless cats in South Florida. Most of these cats needed to be spayed and neutered and many were sick and injured and people and organizations did not seem to be doing much to help them. I imagined that by bringing awareness to this problem, people would become friends of the animals and would want to help them.
My husband, son, daughter and sister help a lot and I have a few volunteers and fosters but I do most of the coordinating and work myself since I am the one that visits the low-income areas where most cats live. Problem is that I find sick animals every time I visit these communities and it is hard to do things like educating and fundraising while I am tending to the sick cats. Lots of driving around to vet visits.
My advice is to please not ignore them. Anyone can help animals. Many sick stray cats are friendly and it is very easy to put them in a crate and take them to a vet. People can fundraise to pay for medical care. At least take photos and start asking for help.
Carmen’s non-profit has provided Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return (TNVR) services to hundreds of community cats in the area, but there is much more to be done! To help, you can donate here or if you're in the area and able/willing to help, consider the possibility to foster or adopt a kitty yourself.
Carmen says, "Cotton doesn't know he's famous," but his story is definitely having a positive impact on the South Florida cat population, and his recovery is capable of inspiring everyone who takes the time to hear it.
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