On 5th April 2020 a member of the public rang the National RSPCA helpline to say they were fleeing the country to escape the corona virus and leaving behind two cats. Inspector Dingley spoke to the owner who said they were flying at 3pm that afternoon and that his landlord would let the RSPCA into the flat to retrieve the two cats they were leaving behind.
When the inspector entered the property with the landlord they found pet travel documents. They revealed that Leon and his companion had been brought over from Canada and that Leon’s original name was Whiskas and he was 10 years of age. His companion was suffering with a significant heart murmur, whereas Leon was found to be FIV positive, suffering with stress manifested as overgrooming with sores, diarrhoea and anxiety.
Leon went into foster care with (then) new recruits Emily and Navdeep. They were a couple who had met at the opposite side of the world and ended up marooned in Manchester for the duration of the pandemic: one from America and the other from Australia. They were keen to help out a local rescue and got in touch with us. Little did any of us know that a 298 day journey lay ahead of us with a beautiful cat we renamed Leon.
After many months of care and veterinary treatment Leon was seemingly ready for rehoming. Emily and Nav had by now gone through the turmoil (multiple times) of coming to terms with the fact that they could not adopt their beloved companion, because they didn’t know for how much longer they would be in the country and where they would be going next. It was December 2020 and time to find Leon a forever home. Emily asked if they could have Christmas together before we released him for rehoming, which we happily honoured. Emily prepared herself for his pending departure by documenting her time with Leon:
The first day when Leon arrived he was a bit nervous and hid under the bed in the spare room immediately after we took him out of the cat carrier. After only about 30 minutes however, he came out to do some investigating and very quickly wanted some affection. It was obvious he was relieved to be with people who loved him, and he very quickly found a spot on my lap where he could nap. He slept almost the entirety of the first two days. The first few days he felt the safest in the spare room, but slowly he started to make his way to other parts of our flat, room by room, and after about a week he was confidently doing his rounds every day in order to keep tabs on the goings-on throughout the flat. We quickly realized that Leon was feeling the stress of having been abandoned, as he was over-grooming and developed some patchy spots in his fur. This resolved after a couple of months and has not been an issue since. He does still enjoy grooming, and he really loves being brushed, especially on his chin and neck.
Leon is without a doubt the sweetest cat that I have ever met, and words cannot describe how wonderful of a companion is. He loves to be held, and to sit in your lap, where he will snuggle his nose into your elbow or neck. He is in my lap even as I am writing this!
Leon is unbelievably affectionate, and in fact can get rather anxious. He is very attached and likes being coddled over. Oftentimes when we come home, Leon will be waiting at the door to greet us! While he’s ok on his own while napping, he will always want to be around you while he’s awake. After waking up from a nap, he will meow once he finds you as if to say, “I can’t believe you left me!”. Some days he is more anxious than others, and when he gets in the mood he simply needs to be held and snuggled for a while in order to relax. Relatedly, if ever you have the door closed to the room you’re in (e.g. for a virtual work meeting, or for a nap), Leon will be very offended and will continue scratching at the door to get in. The exception to this is the bathroom, where you will still have your privacy!
He loves being underneath blankets, both in the human bed and while in his cat bed, so we tend to tuck him in while he is napping throughout the day. He will meow with joy if you place his cat blanket on him, and he will snuggle into this like a little cave. He also spends a ton of time on my lap while I’m working, whose only competitor is the radiator (more on this below).
A very interesting thing about Leon is how vocal he is. He has different meows for all occasions, even silent ones when he is asleep and you stroke him – it’s as if he wants to signal his approval but is too sleepy to get any sound to come out, so all you see is his mouth move. It’s adorable! I have never met a cat that meows more than Leon, he simply loves to communicate in this way. It becomes pretty obvious as well which means what – more food, more cuddles, etc.
Leon is a very gentle boy – he would never dream of scratching or biting anyone. He also is a pretty good boy about not jumping up onto things, so while he does jump onto the kitchen table to get to the windowsill behind it, he’s never jumped up onto the kitchen counters.
Free time activities
Leon definitely enjoys having a lot of space to explore, and is always happy to find an open wardrobe door or dresser drawer so that he can go in to investigate every possible nook and cranny. Like other cats, he is also a huge fan of climbing into cardboard boxes and even our shopping bags! We often keep a box for him to play and hide in.
He likes to divide up the day spending time in different rooms, depending on where my partner and I are at the time. As it’s been cold, he is especially fond of the radiator and will soon find the warmest spot in the house to hang out in. He is also completely obsessed with his cat bed, so we move that around during the day for him to lie in. If he sees you carrying it, he will literally come running because he is so excited to climb in. In the warmer months he prefers the windowsill, and will follow the sun around the apartment windows to stretch out and bask in during his naps. For this reason we also have several impromptu beds set up on windowsills around the flat (made of towels) so that he always has something soft to lie on.
Though Leon is a senior cat, he still very much enjoys his play time. He gets “ready to go” by using a scratch post (he really loves scratching, but is a good boy about his using his post) and then is happy to run around the house, one of his favorite games is to be chased so that he can hide under the bed, only to come back out to do it all over again. He also likes to play wrestle with my partner, he’s almost like a dog in this sense – he even likes belly rubs!
He’s not very interested in small toys like balls or mice, but he absolutely loves a simple ribbon. He gets tired of these after a certain point, but changing the texture and color with a new ribbon will pique his interest again in no time. He especially loves to hide under the bed or behind the couch and stick his paw out to bat a ribbon that you dangle next to him! His appetite for play comes and goes – sometimes he’s a crazy boy but other days he’s more subdued. One of his favorite play times is right before bed, he gets pretty excited toward the end of the day.
At nighttime we move Leon’s bed into our bedroom, but even if he starts out in his bed, at some point he jumps into bed to join us for the remainder of the night. Leon is definitely not a cat that sleeps at the foot of the bed – his preferred spot is your pillow! He likes to be cuddled even at nighttime, with a preference of being the “little spoon”. Leon is used to his routine and will often wait in his spot for bed as we are getting ready to go to sleep. Don’t be surprised if he licks your face while you’re sleeping! He seems to be confused about why the humans are so boring for such a long period of time. In the morning he will meow for his breakfast.
Leon is not pushy about food but he will certainly let you know when he is hungry. He doesn’t eat his meals all in one go, but will usually take about three sittings to finish each bowl. Currently we feed him a wet food diet, split into 3 meals a day. He sometimes needs a few treats as encouragement to finish his meal, as an appetiser so to speak! Sometimes it also helps if you stand next to him and encourage him to eat. His appetite tends to fluctuate, as some days he is very hungry while others he doesn’t have much interest in eating. He doesn’t really have much interest in human food, so he won’t try to steal your meal (though he will certainly try to smell what you’re eating to see if he’s being excluded). On one occasion he got into the trash overnight, but this was only a one-time event.
Interaction with others
Since we’ve had Leon during a pandemic, we don’t know too much about how he interacts with “new” people. On the very few occasions however, when people have been in the flat, he’s
initially been very shy and run away, but eventually comes around and is happy to be petted (though he will stay close to us out of caution).
Leon has made life in lockdown so much more bearable for us, and has brought sunshine to our cloudy days. He will be a great companion, though the other side of this is that he requires someone who will be around a lot to pay attention to and snuggle him, as he is needy. His feeding schedule is also a bit demanding, because he eats three times a day and often needs encouragement and some creativity to find foods that will work for him. He is a very special boy, and were it not for our circumstances we would be the first to adopt him — we will never meet another cat like him. We are absolutely gutted to say goodbye.
On Wednesday 27th January 2021 Leon went to the vets for a routine scale and polish on his teeth because of plaque build up and whiffy breath. This was the final treatment he was going to receive before going up for adoption. The following day Leon had not ‘perked up’ from the procedure and was off his food. His foster carers called the out of hours vets when he started vomiting late at night what looked like blood and soft tissue. He was admitted to the vets 48 hours after the ‘dental’ looking wretched and disorientated. It was 19.05 on Saturday (30th January 2021) when the call we were dreading came through. Leon had collapsed, he was in ICU and being given oxygen to support him. If we wanted to say goodbye, time was of the essence. I left tea cooking, shouting instructions at my husband as I ran out the house to go and pick up Emily and Nav. We had previously discussed that we would make sure they got to say goodbye if the worst outcome happened. Thanks to the amazing out of hours team at Ashliegh Veterinary Centre Leon’s family go to be with him for his final moments. They were able to say their goodbyes privately and in their own time, and when it was time for him to go they were able to hold him in their arms as he was gently put to sleep.
Leon, Emily and Nav had become a family that was filled with so much joy and happiness and unconditional love. Whilst I was only ever Leon’s ‘driver’ I got to know two very special ‘people’ who dedicated their life to caring for a senior cat with FIV. It was an honour to have been part of this very special love story and to have been given the opportunity to help a cat when they had needed us the most. Thank you to each and every supporter, staff member and volunteer who believes in what we do. Thank you for giving Leon the chance to spend his last year receiving everything he needed; without you this could not have been possible.
I would just like to leave on this final note:
On Leon’s last day Emily told me she had been talking to her sister in Boston, USA, updating her on what was happening. Emily said her sister was so inspired by the work of RSPCA Manchester and Salford Branch that she had donated $200 to her local animal shelter. Leon’s legacy will live on in more ways than we could ever have imagined and he will forever have a place in our hearts.