When a stray kitten wandered into Jan Rottenberg’s cat hospital, she never expected the loving bond they would share … or the miraculous outcome.
“My small cat hospital was busy enough, but rescues kept it really hopping. So when the door chimed just before closing on a Friday night and a man walked in carrying a shoebox, I wasn’t really surprised. ‘I have a cat,’ he said with a Spanish accent, ‘a little cat.’
“’Oh,’ I said, ‘have you tried taking it to the shelter?’ After a brief conversation in broken English and broken Spanish, I learned that he had tried, but the shelter would not take the cat because it was too sick. He had tried another animal hospital but they did not accept strays.
“I peered into the box and found a scrawny kitten whose nose and eyes were plastered shut with mucus, and of course there were fleas. ‘Okay,’ I said. ‘I’ll take the kitten,’ knowing that I wouldn’t be leaving the office on time. ‘Can you make a donation to the hospital?’ I asked sheepishly.
“Fifty dollars later, I was in charge of saving this male kitten, and his road to recovery began. Months later, after plenty of good food and lots of TLC provided by a dedicated and nurturing staff, the kitten blossomed into an adorable, rambunctious ball of fire. His left eye had become large and painful and had to go, but he didn’t seem to notice. And since he had arrived close to the Fourth of July, I chose to name him after one of our founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin.
“Eventually, the time came to find Ben a forever home. He was healthy and ready to be adopted, but there was a small problem: After months of toting him back and forth from office to home in order to feed and medicate him, Ben had become more to me than just another rescue. Whoever was going to adopt him not only had to pass my rigorous scrutiny, but also had to walk on water.
“Ben was placed in the adoption cage in the waiting room. Every morning when I arrived at the office, that one eye would follow me, and I would feel a tug at my heartstrings.
“So when Andrea, one of my favorite clients, inquired, ‘What’s his story?’ I was elated. Andrea already had three cats, one a youngster who needed a playmate. Quickly, I recounted Ben’s history and placed him on Andrea’s lap. She was interested, but not ready to commit. ‘I’ll let you know in a week,’ she promised, and I was hopeful.
“Over the course of the week, I found myself becoming less and less excited at the prospect of Ben’s potential adoption. So, when Andrea phoned the following Saturday with her decision, I had mixed feelings.
“’I’ve decided a fourth cat would be too much for us,’ she said.
“’I understand,’ I responded, trying very hard to sound disappointed.
“There was only one rule of fostering: You could not keep an adoptable cat or kitten. But rules are meant to be broken, so why should this one be any different? That night, Benjamin was loaded into his carrier for a one-way trip to his forever home — mine. In no time at all, Ben claimed the upstairs of my small ranch house.
“Like any kitten, he got into everything and pestered all the other feline residents. He became ‘Benjamin’ when he was sweet and ‘Ben!’ when he was naughty. Very quickly, he learned what he could get away with.
“One day, when Ben was big enough to scale the baby gate across the bathroom door, I watched with apprehension as he jumped over. The bathroom was Spirit’s domain, my paraplegic Tortoiseshell who had lost her freedom when I could no longer get her diaper to stay on. Spirit didn’t mind much, as she had always been a loner anyway, never interacting with the other cats. Nevertheless, I had always felt bad about her isolation.
“To my amazement, she scooted over to Ben immediately and lowered her head. Ben wrapped his front legs around her neck and began grooming her vigorously. Tears filled my eyes as I watched Spirit with her new friend. This became a daily ritual, even though his primary motive for hopping the gate was to see what food he could steal from Spirit’s dish.
“Since then, Ben has similarly welcomed two rescue kittens, and while he wasn’t my first foster failure, and likely will not be my last, I am so glad I kept him. Ben not only earned his keep, but is also proof that every homeless kitten deserves a chance.”
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.