Louie eats three full meals a day, and we are absolutely thrilled about it.
That doesn’t sound exceptional—lots of cats eat three meals a day, after all. But for Louie, it is an incredible benchmark months in the making. Not long ago, Louie didn’t even know how to enjoy a meal. He had to relearn, with careful monitoring and much coaxing, that he was allowed to eat at all.
We want to tell you Louie’s story, because he is one of the most resilient and remarkable cats we’ve had the pleasure to know.
Saving a Young Cat from Abuse and Neglect
There is no way to sugar coat it: Louie suffered unbelievable cruelty before he was even a year old. Locked away in a cage in a back room of a house, he was barely fed once every three days—and often punished when he did eat. To say he was malnourished as a result of the horrors he faced would be a severe understatement.
Then one night, Alley Cat Allies received a terrifying call telling us that Louie was at death’s door. We immediately demanded he be rushed to an emergency veterinary hospital to receive urgent care. By the time veterinary staff carefully lifted Louie out of the back of a car, they wondered if he’d be able to pull through at all. He was light as a feather, and what they discovered when they set him on a scale was chilling.
At a year old, Louie weighed only three pounds.
Louie needed a blood transfusion to survive, staff determined, but they weren’t sure he would even make it through the night in order to receive it. Yet even in the most dire of circumstances, Louie wasn’t ready to give in.
He looked up at his veterinarian, held eye contact with her, and licked her hand. In her eyes, it was as if he was saying “please save me.” And through tears, she vowed to do just that.
For the next two nights, Louie received fluids and nutrients to sustain him and tests to prepare him for his blood transfusion. He was even transferred to a more specialized hospital to make sure the transfusion went as smoothly as possible. But just as procedure preparations were finalized, a miracle unfolded.
Over the night before his scheduled transfusion, Louie’s vitals suddenly improved. Though the numbers weren’t perfect, they were enough that the blood transfusion was called off altogether. The stunned veterinarians could think of no medically attestable explanation. We like to think that Louie realized, after all he had been through, that there were better and brighter things ahead for him.
Refeeding and Pursuing Justice for Louie
As Louie recovered under top-notch veterinary care, Alley Cat Allies took a stand to ensure no cat would have to suffer as he did. We asked for cruelty charges to be filed against Louie’s owner. The process, however, can be complicated—which is why Alley Cat Allies prioritizes fighting for tougher and more clean-cut animal cruelty laws and punishments.
In Louie’s case, it was imperative to prove that there was no underlying medical issue behind his inability to gain weight, and that he had been deliberately starved to the point of being three pounds at an adult age. So once Louie was stronger, local animal services took custody of him and began a process called refeeding, in which Louie was given carefully portioned and strictly monitored food so he could steadily and safely gain weight.
Louie gained easily, eating his small meals so desperately that it broke the hearts of shelter staff. And with each ounce he put back on, the case against his former owner solidified. It was obvious that Louie had been at the very least severely neglected in his household, and there was no reason to hesitate on following through with cruelty charges.
Animal control services investigated the situation and prosecuted Louie’s abuser. She received a severe penalty.
The Road to Recovery for Sweet, Shy Louie
Six weeks after animal control services began refeeding Louie, and after he’d put some needed weight back on, Alley Cat Allies took Louie in to complete his recovery. He had grown to five pounds, and we were determined to make sure he gained another two under our care. For weeks, Louie recuperated in our headquarter office in Bethesda, and there wasn’t an hour he didn’t have company.
Members of our team took shifts, including through the night, offering Louie tasty and nutritious meals every hour to try to retrain him into a normal diet. But the effects of Louie’s situation were finally starting to emerge. He was wary when bowls of food were set down and would often refuse food. Eating on any semblance of a typical schedule was foreign to him, and the change made him nervous.
So, we moved forward on Louie’s terms. Around the clock, anytime possible, our team tried to coax Louie into eating. They’d set down all sorts of tempting cat food multiple times a day and reward him with praise and treats when he finally came over to take a few bites.
The TLC paid off. Within three weeks, Louie’s weight was up to seven pounds and he was looking stronger and more alert than ever. But to really finalize his recovery and get him ready for the next step, we knew we had to get Louie into a loving foster home.
Melanie, a member of the Alley Cat Allies staff, stepped up to the plate to foster. With another young cat at home, she and her boyfriend Tim figured they’d be the perfect landing spot for Louie until he was ready to find a new adopter.
“After what he’d been through, we wanted to do whatever we could to help him,” says Melanie. “We wanted to give him a space to recuperate and bring out his real personality.”
Seeing Louie’s True Colors
Many cats take time to cope with and adapt to new situations after they have suffered neglect or abuse. So there was no telling how long it would take Louie to become comfortable in Melanie’s home. On top of it all, he was still fragile from his ordeal. Because of the abuse he went through, if Louie refused to eat it could cause his health to take a nosedive.
But though there were a few ups and downs in the beginning, a little time in a loving household turned out to be exactly what Louie needed. At first he was still fed every two hours—and Melanie had to set an alarm through the night to keep up with it—but it wasn’t long before Louie’s meal schedule began to take a normal shape.
A lot of that positive change can be attributed to Louie’s new bond with Melanie’s tabby Barney. After a bit of a rocky start with a few days of hissing, the two became best friends. In fact, we discovered, shy Louie was even more playful than Barney!
When Louie and Barney aren’t chasing each other around or wrestling, which often takes the form of clinging to each other in a funny sort of bear hug, they groom and nap together. Barney is like the older brother, aloof but tolerant of Louie’s antics, and a now well-nourished Louie has plenty of energy to burn on wand and chirping bird toys—his favorite. But don’t mistake his playfulness for carelessness. Louie is very calm around the two rabbits and hedgehog that share his foster home and is respectful of their space.
Affectionate by nature, Louie also quickly warmed up to Melanie and Tim. He’s a sort of semi-lap cat (he usually climbs in their laps when they’re sitting in computer chairs), and he’s not afraid to make himself heard when he wants a chin scritch.
“He’s very communicative, and he’ll mew when he wants food or love,” says Melanie. “And if he really wants our attention, he’ll tap us with his paw like ‘Hi, I’m still here.’”
That Louie will ask for food is incredible unto itself after everything he’s been through. Yet here he is today, eating three square meals a day like any other cat. And though he’s still a bit picky about what he eats, Louie is now close to a healthy 11 pounds and has filled out handsomely.
According to Melanie, it’s hard to believe Louie is the same cat who had faced such cruelty that his life nearly came to an end at one year and a meager three pounds. And this month, Louie celebrated his 2nd birthday!
Defending Cats Like Louie
Today, Louie is living happily in a new adoptive home and is the inspiration behind our Speak Out Against Cruelty campaign. Our goal is to ensure no cat has to suffer like Louie ever again, and we need every single voice to fight animal cruelty around the world. Join us.