Some people might bypass a cat with no tail. But to Jason and Ashley Millard of West Seneca, it was far from a flaw it was a sign.
The Millards were at the McKinley Mall adoption center operated by Ten Lives Club, looking for a kitty to fill the hole left in their hearts by the death of their beloved tan tabby Gordon. Before he came to them in 2004, Gordon was found, injured, in a Dumpster. He was saved by volunteers with the rescue group HEART, but his mangled tail had to be amputated.
A few weeks after their beloved Gordon's death in April 2009, the Millards stopped by the Ten Lives Club adoption center. As they peered into a crate that held a thin, dark tabby, a volunteer strolled over. "She told us that he was found on Easter Sunday morning, thin, emaciated, dehydrated, and somebody contacted Ten Lives, and they nursed him back to health," says Millard. "Then she said, 'He doesn't have a tail.' "
"We said, 'What?' " says Millard.
The volunteer explained that this cat may have been a bobtail mix or he might have lost his tail at the same time he had suffered the injuries they found on his back legs.
The Millards took the cat, whom the rescue workers were calling "Super Cat" because of his survival, into the meet and greet room. There he exerted his considerable charm.
"He was happy and purring, and although he wasn't really strong, he walked up to us and he just wanted love," says Millard, a literacy specialist with the Buffalo public schools. "I said, 'Oh, yeah, this is it.' "
Ten Lives Club documented that Super Cat had gained an amazing three pounds in the 10 days he had been with them, but Millard says his ribs were visible through his thin, rough coat. "I cannot imagine what he was like when they brought him in," says Millard.
Although they loved him immediately, the Millards knew Super Cat had some big paw prints to fill to take the place of Gordon.
In 2004, the Millards had no pets until the day Ashley Millard, on a trip with a friend to a pet supply store, stopped to interact with the cats available for adoption. When she walked away from Gordon's crate, he reached his paw through the bars for her.
With that simple gesture, Gordon snagged a home. Two days later, the gregarious, loving cat had also won over Jason Millard, who had never had a cat before. The couple's more than four years with Gordon, who died of an infection complicated by his Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, were "a beautiful gift," Jason Millard says.
But after several weeks of grieving, they felt it was time to give another homeless animal a chance at a good life. Once they selected Super Cat, soon renamed Cullen, he had to win over the family's other cat, Lightfoot. ("I'm a huge folk music fan, and Gordon Lightfoot is my favorite singer," says Millard.) Lightfoot, a long-haired gray cat whom the Millards had found emaciated and wandering, was annoyed by the stranger who had taken up residence in the enclosed Florida room.
"We followed Ten Lives' recommendations on how to introduce a new cat," says Millard, setting up food, water, a litter box and toys in the Florida room for Cullen. "I would visit him in there, and when I would leave the room he would meow at me, as if to say, 'Why are you leaving me?' " After a while, the two cats met for brief periods. "It took some time," says Millard, "but eventually they developed a friendship. Now they sleep together, frolic and play and chase each other."
Today, Cullen is the picture of contentment and good health. His dark fur is thick and glossy, his green eyes bright and curious.
"As you can see, he's no longer skin and bones, in fact now he's a big guy," says Millard. "He may have put on a few pounds too many!"
The Millard house has many cat-friendly touches, including a viewing platform near a picture window that looks out on a wooded area. But Jason Millard is proudest of an enclosed bridge and outdoor cat room he built. "In nice weather they can go out and enjoy the fresh air," Millard says. "I'm just trying to give them the best existence they can have."
Five years after his first cat walked into his life, Millard avidly supports rescue groups. "These organizations give every animal a chance and they do such amazing things on limited funds," he says. "And I firmly believe that these rescued animals know that we are giving them a new life," he says. "We give them a warm home, food and water and they give us unconditional love and affection. It so surpasses what we give them."
The Ten Lives Club's Adoption Center and Pet Store at the McKinley Mall in Hamburg is usually open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. This week, the center will close at 2 p.m. on Friday and be closed Saturday. It will reopen for normal hours on Sunday. Call 822-4910 for adoption information, or go to www.tenlivesclub.com.
For more information on HEART Animal Rescue and Adoption Team, go to www.heartforanimals.org.