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November 28, 2023

Happily Homed: Garfield and Big Red

Happily Homed: Garfield and Big Red

Probably one of our shelter’s biggest transformation stories comes in the form of two bonded orange tabbies named Garfield and Big Red. Both came to us as ferals from other shelters within days of each other in January 2023, and both brought with them an FIV+ diagnosis.

Big Red (the one with the white blaze on his chest) arrived from Nebraska as an overweight stray. He appeared mostly healthy, friendly but timid and easily overstimulated. In his first exam with our medical team, he leaned into pets but was not overly comfortable being handled. We spotted some mild gingivitis and dental disease, but were unable to obtain a blood panel. Big Red became so stressed out from the experience that he became aggressive and fearful. We decided to forego his dental procedure and inform his future adopter to discuss treatment with a private vet.

At the end of Big Red’s first week, he was still fearful, hiding in his room on a shelf behind blankets. But after a few minutes of us in the room, he would visibly relax and allow pets on his cheek. He startled easily, so we moved slow around him. Within a few more days, shelter visitors told us that Big Red was allowing them to pet him extensively and was even rolling over to show his belly!

A few days before Big Red entered into CCS’ care, his soon-to-be-buddy Garfield arrived from another Colorado shelter after bouncing around other rescues in the Midwest. And he proved harder to handle.

From the start, our team was unable to touch Garfield. He lunged, was fractious and needed sedation just to be examined. We found that he had a corneal ulcer in one eye, periodontal disease and ruptured abscesses from a recent neuter. We were concerned about how to care for him and considered finding him a foster in the hopes he would be calmer in a home setting.

In the meantime, Garfield was moved into our FIV+ room, and we hoped he’d get along with other cats. The first day was promising; he laid next to others without issue, and we watched him closely while he acclimated. But by Valentine’s Day, there was no love in the room as our team found evidence of fights between Garfield and Gordon. He was also consistently swatting and hissing at staff who tried to offer him some attention. It was clear he was in distress.

Days later, he needed another exam to check his scrotal abscess, he again refused to be handled and needed sedation. The good news is his wounds had healed, but we were worried about not being able to medicate him. We reached out to his prior shelters for more information and began considering all of our options, including a transfer to a barn cat program and worst-case scenario, euthanasia.

Garfield’s advocates stepped up to the plate, dedicating themselves to the challenge of avoiding the latter and getting creative with socialization methods. Garfield responded less dramatically to being touched with a long brush — we had hope! Then the real magic began when an adoptions counselor offered him some Churu (a squeezable treat paste) on the end of a bite glove. He happily licked the treat and began relaxing his ears. Eventually, he ate the treat directly off her fingers! He returned a couple slow blinks, but was not yet ready for head pats.

The very next day, he approached our animal care lead for breakfast — but only ate when she was fully still. Another animal care tech Kelly tried one more Churu, with significant success. Standing to the side and speaking soft, Garfield lapped up his treat while Kelly engaged with him. No hisses, no swats and no fearful body language!

Kelly had just created enrichment charts for our cats to note who responded best to various sensory needs such as smell/taste, puzzle/forage, play/visual, and comfort/hiding. We used Garfield to test some new methods.

@catcaresociety Our FIV+ boys Big Red and Garfield had a rough start here at the shelter. When they first came to us, Garfield showed signs of aggression and wouldn’t let anyone near him, often swatting or hissing at anyone who entered his room. Big Red had issues with the other FIV+ cats and wouldn’t let anyone near him either. With patience and reassurance, CCS staff has been working on socializing them. Together, they learned to trust humans and have done a complete 180 in just a month! Now they greet you when you enter their room, accept pets (especially if rewarded with kitty gogurts) and have grown quite fond of each other. #fyp #catsoftiktok #catcaresociety #adoptdontshop #sheltercat #coloradocats #denver #fureverhome #nonprofit #adoptme #gingercat #orangecat #thingstododenver #denver #fivcat #fivcatsoftiktok ♬ I Think I Like When It Rains – WILLIS

“In Garfield’s case, he mostly needed comfort and hiding enrichment and some smell/taste with treats and food,” Kelly said. “Many of the staff were going into his room throughout the day to feed him Churu and other tasty snacks in order to associate humans with food and positive feelings. We also have music speakers in the room that play soft piano music. I figured out how to change the channel to Colorado Public Radio so that Garfield would get used to human voices and positive energy with music.”

As the days went on, he slowly gained more confidence. After enough quiet time with one person, he began to allow being combed and touched. Just a few days later, he began picking up his head, slow blinking and meowing at our team when they entered his room. It was slow but steady progress.

Little by little, Garfield became more talkative and friendly, rubbing on legs, allowing scratches, offering headbutts, purring, crawling into laps and making biscuits. It was a 180! We couldn’t believe what a sweet cat he had become.

Meanwhile, Big Red was struggling with other cats. He seemed so scared that he was hiding and trying to scale the walls. Since Garfield was doing so well, we wanted to see how they would do together, hoping that Garfield’s progress would rub off on Big Red. Queue the love story, because we had no idea how quickly these two boys would bond.

“Their personalities really started to come out around this time,” Kelly recalled. “They were so chatty and vocal. They would walk side by side with their tails intertwined and eat out of the same bowl (even if you gave them two food bowls!). They also used the same litterbox despite having two. We joked that they were so bonded that we were pretty sure they were dating!”

Our shelter manager called Garfield and Big Red’s turnaround amazing and commended the work our animal care team and volunteer socializers did for them. “We try not to bond cats together, but these two just gravitated toward each other,” she said. “They were like a couple. Big Red was the jealous type and swatted other cats away from Garfield. It was just a constant cuddle puddle.”

These two lovers did indeed find their happy ending together, too. Adopter Jason was originally thinking about getting a companion for his senior cat of 23, but was worried how he’d do with a new friend. He began browsing our website and kept tabs on who was up for adoption, but just kept thinking it was the wrong time. But then his cat passed on, and he stopped into the shelter on his way back from a work trip to see if he was ready to adopt again. 

“[Garfield and Big Red] were there for a long time, and it just seemed that they really just needed a home,” Jason said. “I wasn’t sure who they were to become, but I just knew I could provide the home they deserved. While I will always remember and cherish the time I had with Rupert, it turns out that it was the right time to make new memories with ‘the boys.’’

Jason renamed them Oliver and Winston, respectively, and brought them home in April. Just like in the shelter, it was Oliver who opened up first, with Winston cautiously following suit. He says they have been the best company. “They are still really close to each other and remain best friends,” he said. “They have both opened up to loving and playful personalities, while Oliver is more outgoing and Winston a bit more reserved. They just love to be near you and hang out. In the morning and the evening Oliver enjoys the zoomies, running between rooms and sliding on the floors batting and chasing his favorite mice. Winston will play and chase ghosts, meowing in his own imaginary world. During the day, they enjoy watching the birds and squirrels out the windows, and taking naps in their favorite chair.”

For so many cats, a shelter environment doesn’t allow their true personalities to shine. That’s why our goal is always to place our cats in adopter or foster homes.

“It made me so happy that I was a part of helping [Garfield] to bring out the love that I always knew that he had,” our volunteer socializer Vicky said. “They are now in a loving home and get to love and be loved. Every day that I go to Cat Care Society, I get to help another little kitty cat and am filled with gratitude to be able to do that.”

We thank each and every person who’s helped any of our shelter cats. Together, we’re making a world of difference in the lives of cats in need.

Have you adopted from CCS in the past? We’d love to hear how it’s going! Send us your adoption success stories (and photos!) to be featured in our #adoptionupdate series on social media or on our website.

Feel compelled by our work and want to help more cats in need find loving homes? Please send us a financial gift to provide life-saving medical care and adoption services to cats like Garfield and Big red. Donations can be made online HERE (and all funds received from Nov. 1 to Dec. 5, 2023, count for our Colorado Gives Day fundraising goal, with extra opportunities for matching incentive funds. We appreciate your support!

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