All the levels of their challenges and their differences from each other would make a deep friendship between two unwanted animals, a blind and deaf geriatric pit bull and a rescued one-eyed FeLV-positive black cat, highly unlikely but they are following a basic rule of rescued animals—love can live anywhere. Old Grand Dad and Frankencat aren’t concerned about rules, besides being great friends they found they need each other too.
A small black cat was found on the street in November 2013 with an atrophied eye, a badly-healed broken jaw that held his mouth open and a necrotic face wound between his eyes. Volunteers for the Pittsburgh Feral Cat Movement (PFCM) trapped him and took him to the Homeless Cat Management Team (HCMT) clinic in Tarentum and because of his truly frightening appearance the group named him Frankencat. Though the condition of his face made him appear wizened he turned out to be somewhere younger than three years old. His recovery from all this was progressing well after he responded immediately to an antibiotic for the necrotic wound, his eye was removed and he was neutered but then took an uncertain turn when his FeLV test came back with a faint positive. He was well enough to go to a foster home for long-term recovery but with that diagnosis he needed to wait six weeks to retest, and he needed a cat-free place to live to help reduce the chances of spreading the virus to other cats.
About Old Grand Dad, or OGD
Old Grand Dad (aka OGD) is 15 years old, deaf and blind and somewhat senile, and as an unneutered pit bull in a Carrollton, OH pound he stood little chance of adoption and in fact had an appointment with the gas chamber in August 2013. Heather Long spoke for him, intending to foster him until a spot was available with a rescue in Pennsylvania that specializes in hospice care, set up a room that met his needs and ensured his safety and got him to a veterinarian. The hospice spot was quickly available, “However, since I was aware of the challenge it can be for a deaf and blind dog to settle in to a new environment, and the safety setup I had created for OGD was working, I decided that OGD could stay here, and that open spot could better be used by another dog who didn’t have any other options,” Heather said. “It is still apparent he finds enjoyment in life and his physical challenges are managed effectively through daily meds. He is what I refer to as our ‘hospice foster’.” While he stays in his room they also let him mingle with the other dogs around the house under supervision and get some time outdoors on a leash.
How Frankencat came to live there
Heather actually lives with six rescued dogs but she also enjoys cats, and in fact owns a pet care company called Au Purr, LLC where she provides home visits and hands-on in-home care for all pets and other animals. Because of her known “soft spot for special needs and physically handicapped animals” she was called out—“This is a cat Heather Long would adopt…if she adopted cats”—as PFCM’s first choice as a home to foster and care for Franken as he recovered from all his conditions and awaited the follow-up FeLV test. “He was right! When I saw [Frankencat’s] picture on Facebook, my heart swooned over him.” She had also fostered a cat last year who needed medication for a calici virus and also needed a cat-free home. Two of her dogs are not cat-friendly but she decided Frankencat could safely be roomies with OGD.
Getting to know you
As far as introductions, “I was careful, being unsure as to whether Frankencat would like dogs; and while I figured OGD would be fine in his elderly, senile state, I needed to see that before trusting them alone,” she said. OGD tends to aimlessly wander around the room and sing, a symptom of his mental condition, and he could easily seem threatening to Frankencat, even unassumingly corner him causing a confrontation where either could hurt the other. Frankencat stayed in an extra-large dog cage for the first few days, then Heather began to let him out while she was in the room and immediately “began to see their bond blossom.”
Frankencat had a rather frightening personality in the beginning but while at the clinic he “turned the corner of feral bipolar stage, high pitched mewing for food right next to me, followed by clinging to the back of the cage and hissing at me,” according to Lindsay Joyce, the veterinary technician who cares for cats at the Tarentum clinic. While he remained wary he was really only unaccustomed to people and according to Lindsay he had a great appetite and ate his medications in his food as his necrotic lesions were “visibly shrinking before our eyes by the day.”
When he arrived at Heather’s home he was frightened of her as well, but after a few days of interacting with OGD Heather noticed Frankencat wasn’t as frightened of her. “I don’t know whether seeing me care for OGD made him realize I was okay, or if it was something else. But one day, Frankencat switched gears and began vocalizing while weaving around my ankles.
“It was around this same time that Frankencat showed his devotion to OGD. When I would come to their bedroom to put Frankencat in his crate before I left the house, I’d find Frankencat cuddling contentedly with OGD, or laying on [OGD’s] back while milktreading his skin, or grooming OGD gently,” she explained. “And OGD was visibly content with this relationship too. I took that as a sign that these two were surely friends, and began leaving Frankencat out of the crate at all times, eventually removing the crate altogether.
“Their relationship continued to get even more adorable, and still continues, to the point where I kick myself every time I go into their bedroom without my camera!” Heather laughed.
A One-eyed Seeing Eye and Medical Assistance Cat
Adorable indeed, but the unlikely pair has gone a step beyond friendship to a real caretaker relationship as the young black cat assists the elderly pit bull with his daily activities and even provides comfort in medical situations.
“Frankencat has become OGD’s one-eyed Seeing Eye Cat,” Heather said. “OGD often gets ‘lost’ with his senility, and will begin barking while in a corner. Frankencat seems to recognize this, and assists OGD to their bed. It’s quite beautiful,” she remarked and explained what Franken does.
“Since OGD is deaf and blind, he goes by tactile sense and smell. Frankencat incrementally guides OGD first by using touch, either rubbing up against him and/or wrapping his tail on him, and then scent. I say this because after Frankencat touches OGD, he will move a few steps ahead and wait. OGD appears to smell him, dogs have such a great sense of smell, and walks in that direction. Frankencat will then follow up with another touch, and then move a few steps ahead to let OGD guide himself by smell again. Ultimately, Frankencat will wait on the bed, and OGD finally gets there too with him,” Heather finished and provided a video of the two of them in this activity.
If the video above doesn’t play, please use the Facebook-linked video below:
OGD also has petit mal seizures, a minute or so of confusion and trembling. Heather isn’t certain of the cause, though they suspect OGD may have some form of cancer or it may simply be due to his age. Heather described how Frankencat acts as an assistance cat to OGD during his petit mal seizures.
“Frankencat is keenly aware and concerned when OGD goes into an episode, and uses his touch to gently guide OGD down to lay on the ground. In the video I have of this, Frankencat clearly uses his tail to envelope OGD as he physically guides him downwards to safety. It is the most awe inspiring thing,” Heather said.
If the video above doesn’t play, please use the Facebook-linked video below:
In the future
Frankencat is now clearly healed and feeling well, well enough to find another home that could accept a cat with FeLV, but for now Heather would like the two to stay together. “Given the special bond that Frankencat and OGD have formed, my plan is for them to stay together ‘til death do them part’. It seems unnatural to split them; OGD needs Frankencat, and Frankencat clearly enjoys being OGD’s friend and having a purpose in OGD’s life.”
Eventually, Old Grand Dad’s journey here will end and Heather can see Frankencat “all alone in his room”. She’d like to begin now with a new owner who will visit Frankencat so he’ll be accustomed to the visitor before OGD’s passing and actually be able to provide comfort and familiarity in Frankencat’s grief for his friend.
“It makes me very sad to think about Frankencat not being in my life,” Heather said, a little teary-eyed, “but it wouldn’t be fair to have him live alone in a bedroom, and he can’t safely and responsibly be out because not all of my dogs are cat friendly.” As an FeLV-positive cat, Frankencat would have to go to a home with no other cats or with only other FeLV-positive cats, or cats vaccinated against FeLV, though there is risk associated with this since the vaccine is not 100% effective and FeLV is easily transmitted with shared food and water bowls and even toys.
Frankencat has met three of Heather’s other dogs since befriending OGD, and when she enters their room those dogs will often follow her in. “Frankencat greets them with his cheerful meow, and gives them affectionate headbutts too,” she said. “I don’t actually know if Frankencat even likes other cats since I’ve never seen him around one, but I can say with certainty that he loves dogs, and would love a home with any dogs who are cat friendly and enjoy cuddling.”
The little guy sounds like the ideal cat too. “Frankencat is extremely loyal, gentle, friendly and affectionate once he gets to know you. He can be shy at first; but once he’s yours, he will never turn his back,” she described. There’s something very special inside of him, she said.
He’s a real talker too—it seems once he began he never shut up! He doesn’t play with too many toys but prefers cuddling and affection, and is very well-mannered, especially considering his beginnings, with no inappropriate scratching and excellent litterbox habits aside from a recent UTI successfully treated with medications. “He also enjoys going out on walks with OGD to sniff around, but acts afraid of being outside on his cat harness when OGD isn’t there with him,” Heather said.
About Heather and her dogs
“There are two chapters to my life: Everything before January 31, 2007, and everything after. That was the date that BoBo came into my life,” Heather wrote in an award-winning essay describing her unintentional rescue of a pit bull who changed her life. Like many others she “was weary of pit bulls” from the negative press they receive but she found herself fighting for his life against the advice of medical professionals when she discovered he was critically ill. He survived and was featured in a 2008 United Animal Nations (now called Red Rover Foundation) article; he appeared with Heather in a documentary addressing the media slant on pit bulls, and he achieved therapy dog status. Sadly, he died unexpectedly of cancer in April 2012 at only five years old.
Heather does not run an actual rescue organization but does what many of us do who constantly see animals in need: help to rescue animals, and foster and advocate for humane care. “I focus a lot on advocacy for pit bulls in an effort to dispel the many myths that are abundant on the breed, and propogated by the media and ignorant or malicious owners,” she explained. She volunteers with Hello Bully, a 501c3 pit bull advocacy and rescue group in Pittsburgh, and she is planning to work with the Humane Society of the United States to train as a volunteer to deploy and assist with dog fighting operation busts.
She does not rehabilitate dogs, but chooses fosters whose needs she can meet with her own natural skills. “While I have a very good understanding of dogs and their behavior, as well as a lot of hands-on experience, I’m not an actual trained animal behavior professional, and therefore am not qualified to rehabilitate from my personal and ethical perspective,” she said “My knowledge and experience most definitely serves me well with my own personal dogs though.”
And cats too. Imagine how many people along the way who would have given up on Frankencat because of how he looked and how he acted, and how many people likely did give up on Old Grand Dad for him to end up in a county pound at his age. Through the efforts of so many people these two soulmates were brought together at a time when they needed each other, in a place that was safe and loving, and possibly rescued a little bit of each of us who see what can happen when you literally and figuratively can’t see each others’ differences.
Frankencat and Old Grand Dad live in Pittsburgh, PA.
Thanks to Heather Long for providing the videos and the historic photos of OGD and Frankencat I couldn’t get while I was there, and to Dr. Michelle Elgersma for acting as my assistant while photographing these two.
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Last week’s photo
Because the photo I posted the day I met them was so popular, here it is again. We’re considering a few ideas for fundraisers with this image to help support the rescues who helped these two and so many others.
We lost Old Grand Dad on May 31, 2014, and Frankencat stayed with him to the end, and even traveled with him to be buried. Read more about that in “Devoted to the End: Frankencat and Old Grand Dad”.
Read other stories in my Rescue Stories series.
Browse some rescued cats and kittens!
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