The Transformation of Slugger

My partner and I foster cats for PAAWS RI. After our last foster, Cooper, was adopted we met a fluffy 4-month-old nugget while volunteering at the shelter. Our hearts melted! I called the shelter manager, Heidi, to let her know we were ready for our next foster. Before I could mention the fluffy nugget she said, “I was really hoping you would foster Slugger. He really needs you.”

Slugger? Cat names and faces raced through my mind and then it came to me: Slugger, the beat-up 15-pound semi-feral that couldn’t be touched. The gray and white cat that hissed and swatted if you looked at him wrong. He…needed us?

I’m ashamed to say Slugger wasn’t our first choice. After two “hard” fosters we were really hoping for an easier cat this time around. A fluffy nugget. I knew Slugger would be with us for a long time, and it was possible he’d never be what most would consider “adoptable.” Slugger was rescued by PAAWS RI after he was found struggling to survive in a junk yard. When he arrived to the shelter he was in awful condition; his crinkled ears a reminder of the awful life he’d lived.

Heidi’s words stuck with me. This cat needed us. He needed us for the same reason our last two fosters needed us and that fluffy 4-month-old nugget didn’t need us: Everyone wants the fluffy nugget and almost zero people want to foster, much less adopt, a cat like Slugger. The sad truth is that in many other shelters a feral cat would simply be euthanized. I knew we had to give Slugger a chance.

So we welcomed him into our home. For over a month Slugger hid in his litter box, only coming out at night to eat. He’d press his entire body into the bottom of the box trying to make himself invisible, eyes darting back and forth, head kept low. I tried every trick up my sleeve to interact with him and when they didn’t work I started to worry that perhaps Slugger would never be able to live, happy and safe, in a home.

Then one day I was spending time with Slugger, running a feather wand along the edge of the litter box, and his paw popped out and tapped the feather. And for the first time he lifted his head, just a tiny bit, so that I could look into his eyes.

Slugger’s eyes showed years of pain, abandonment and distrust. Of struggling to live outside through harsh winters and long, dark nights alone. Of fear. But there he was, playing with a toy in the company of a human. I knew there was hope for Slugger yet.

Over the next 7 months we worked to gain his trust. Slugger started eating wet food from a long-handled cocktail spoon, still fearful of human touch. As he got more brave he slowly started coming out of his litter box and exploring all of the places he could sit, lay, and nap on, until he no longer hid in his box. He began to play with his feather wand, bonding with us, and gaining more confidence when we were in the room. We threw treats on the floor and Slugger learned it was OK to walk around while we were there, instead of hiding under furniture. He started eating treats out of my gloved hand.

We began to work with Slugger on touch. Still wary of a bare hand, we found that he loved being “pet” with a back scratcher, pushing his head out and leaning into it, apple cheeks looking just like he’s smiling. In time Slugger allowed us to pet him gently with a gloved hand.

After months of hard work and learning how to ‘cat’, Slugger started romping around his room and chasing after toys, especially his favorite bell balls. He discovered fresh catnip, the rainbow wand, his plush bed, sitting on the cat condo and watching the birds out of the window. He discovered, to his joy, Temptation cat treats.

And we learned that Slugger loves, loves, loves other cats! Listening to him chirp through the door at his feline foster siblings just melted our hearts. We learned Slugger had the best social grace of any cat we’ve ever met; playing with his foster sibling who like to play, retreating when his female foster sibling got too bossy, and ignoring the foster sibling who wants nothing to do with him.

Over time Slugger began exploring the rest of the house, hanging out in the same room as we do, playfully eyeing a slice of pizza or the take-out Chinese on our plates before retiring for a nap on our bed.

For the last ten months we have worked tirelessly to help Slugger become the cat he has always deserved to be. We’ve been hissed at, spit at, swatted, scratched, frustrated, tired, and, at times, defeated. But we’ve also been inspired, joyous, and grateful. Most importantly, we’ve learned that change doesn’t always happen on our timeline. Through Slugger, we’ve learned that patience and dedication can bring transformation. And that fostering a cat from “unadoptable” to adorable can be an amazing journey, one Temptation treat at a time.

There are a lot of “Sluggers” out there in the world. They just need a chance. And you could be that chance. Consider fostering or adopting an animal that needs you.

–Melissa Rodas, PAAWS RI Volunteer


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