November 17, 2013 was probably the worst day of my life. It was the day that I lost my mom, my best friend, my cheerleader, my sole supporter. No one in the world understood me and my love for animals like she did. When I was born the year that Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” was released, my mom decided that she wanted to name me Sunshine. She later changed her mind because she did not want people to think that our family was “hippies”, but throughout my childhood, she referred to me as her “Little Sunshine”. She left my life so quick and unexpectedly at 70 years old that it took me more than a year to start feeling somewhat like myself again.
I then received another unexpected blow in February, 2015. I have always been a single, independent woman that relied on no one but myself, but at that time, I found myself unemployed. I was beyond devastated trying to figure out how my bills were going to be paid, while at the same time sending out resumes, going on interviews, and praying for a miracle. During this time, I decided that I needed to stop feeling sorry for myself and start doing something that would bring up my spirits. So I decided to volunteer my time to an organization that provides transport to animals from high kill shelters to rescue organizations. I signed up as a driver and began following their facebook page for transports in my area. Little did I know, that my life was about to change forever.
On February 23, 2015, I emailed out some resumes and then checked the animal rescue transporter page to see if any transports were needed. I was scrolling down and there he was…. There before me was a sad, pathetic looking orange long hair tabby with crusty eyes that was scheduled for euthanasia the next day. Illinois Animal Rescue (IAR) was looking for transport from Chicago Animal Care and Control to Oswego Animal Hospital, as this 2 year old boy was severely injured and fading fast. My heart nearly stopped when I saw that Animal Control was calling him “Sunshine”. I knew this was a sign from my mom to help this little creature. I couldn’t respond quick enough to the post, volunteering to transport him over 40 miles. Within 15 minutes, the transport was set up and I was out the door.
Upon arrival to Animal Control, I was escorted back to the quarantine area, where all the sickest animals are. I saw this poor boy in person and tears came to my eyes. I lifted him from the cage to put him in the carrier I had and I literally felt as if I was lifting a cat that was already deceased. He was just matted fur, skin with multiple open wounds, and bones, but he did utter a tiny meow. On the way to the animal hospital, I sang to Sunshine and he meowed back. I could see that he enjoyed the sun shining on his face through the car window and almost seemed to perk up a little bit. When I arrived, I couldn’t bear to just drop him off, as I did not want him to be afraid. I waited until the vet saw him and diagnosed him as severely emaciated with multiple wounds and abscesses from a probable dog attack. He was doubtful that he would be able to be saved. My heart sank, but IAR’s board member, Kim Sterr, gave authorization for the vet to do further evaluation and treatment. Leaving Sunshine that day broke my heart. I talked to him and gave his dirty face a small kiss. I wanted him to know that he was loved, especially since it was questionable as to whether he would make it to the next day.
Then I went to my car and cried…. not just for Sunshine, but for all the animals on the streets that did not have this chance that Sunshine did.
The next day, I heard from Kim Sterr from IAR, and she notified me that Sunshine’s rear leg was broken in 3 places and severely abscessed. He was on IV antibiotics and an amputation was planned if he became strong enough. IAR was covering the vet bills, but I was guessing at this point that his medical care was going to be extensive and pricey, so I asked permission to start an online fundraiser for Sunshine’s medical care. We were all completely overwhelmed by the cat loving community who turned out in droves to donate to his care. I was beginning to think that this boy was something really special and other people saw it as well. In just over a week or so, the fundraiser raised almost $4000! Sunshine was a star and had so many people pulling for him.
His amputation was performed a few days later and OF COURSE… he was neutered. Even though Kim was keeping me updated on his progress, I couldn’t stop thinking about Sunshine. I really wanted to see him again, so I asked Kim if I could meet her and we could visit him at the animal hospital. She happily said yes!! A few days after surgery, I finally got to meet the amazing rescuer who saw something special in Sunshine and wanted to give him another chance at life. She planned on fostering him after his hospital stay until they could find the perfect home for this now special needs cat. When I saw Sunshine that day, he looked horrible… half shaved, huge incision from a complete amputation, and so skinny we compared him to a stegosaurus due to being able to see every rib, vertebrae, and hip bones. But to me, he was absolutely gorgeous! He was so lively, trying to hop around the room on 3 legs, but not having the strength yet to balance, meowing like crazy, and wanting treats, treats, treats! The tears I shed for him that first day were now tears of joy.
I met with Kim again a few days later to visit Sunshine… I just couldn’t get enough of him. She asked at that meeting if I would be willing to foster him. She was fearful that her home with other fosters and children may be too hectic for a kitty recovering from a major injury and surgery. I had previously had fosters in my attached garage that was heated, but I knew that would not be sufficient for an animal that is rehabilitating. At that time, I had had my only cat, Gizmo, for 12 years and I was doubtful that he would accept another cat in “his” home. But I decided that Sunshine was worth a try. I agreed to foster him upon his release from the hospital and I got to work readying my spare bedroom. I set it up as a foster’s paradise, with warm beds and blankets, litter box, toys, and a large dog kennel so that he would have a place to feel safe.
Sunshine was released from Oswego Animal Hospital on March 4, 2015, and I couldn’t have been more excited to pick him up and show him his new place to stay. On the way home, I sang to him again and kept my hand against the front of the carrier to reassure him that he was safe. My heart swelled when he put his little paw through the grate and rested it on my hand.
Sunshine did very well the first week. I had started a new job in the meantime, but it was a blessing that I was able to do online training from home, so that I could monitor how he was doing. He was basically sleeping and eating, letting his little body heal and finally getting some nourishment. His stitches came out a week later, but since he still had multiple other healing wounds, he was still in a “cone of shame”. but I was convinced that the worst of his ordeal was over… Boy, was I wrong!
Two days after his stitches were removed, I checked on Sunshine in the morning and there was a large. bleeding open wound on his good hip. I was distraught! How could this have happened? He was still wearing his cone and there was nothing in my foster room that he could hurt himself on. I felt every inch of the dog kennel, looking for a sharp spot, since I figured that was the only way it could have happened. I felt like a terrible mom. I rushed him to my local vet immediately and they decided, based on the size of the wound, that surgery was needed. He had surgery that afternoon and I was called during the surgery. The vet explained to me that Sunshine had a large area of necrotic skin due to air being trapped under the skin from the bite wounds. He did not sound optimistic. I asked if he was going to make it and the vet explained that he would, but he had a long road ahead of him and that he would probably have severe scarring and there may be other areas that open up. I was relieved that he would be OK, and I could care less about what I had to see him through, as long as he wasn’t suffering. I was also relieved to find out that the wounds were not caused by any negligence on my part.
Sunshine came home the next day with a large incision on what was once his good side. That is when the hard work began. I had to treat Sunshine’s wounds and change his bandages twice a day, as well as giving him his daily antibiotics and pain medication. We also were going back to the vet 3 times per week for wound checks and laser treatments for wound healing. Sunshine had now officially become my second full time job.
After about a week or so of wound care, I got the next shock… Sunshine’s tail was becoming very brittle… My heart sank because I just knew the tail was becoming necrotic as well. I consulted with the vet and we decided to wait to perform another surgery. It was also suspected that more skin was going to have to be removed on his side, so the surgeries could be done together. So 1-2 weeks later, Sunshine went in for his third surgery. Two thirds of his tail had to be amputated and his hip / side was debrided of more necrotic skin. Then we started round 2 of wound care and weekly laser treatments. But through everything, Sunshine was such a good cat… he never attempted to scratch or bite, he just sat passively while I cleaned his wounds, changed his bandages, and gave him his meds. By this point, I couldn’t even remember what he looked like without a cone.
Following Sunshine’s third surgery, I decided that I was so attached to him, that I needed to evaluate how my cat, Gizmo, would react to him. I did this process SO slowly, as I wanted it to work so bad. I started with just letting them smell each other and there was hissing on Gizmo’s part, but Sunshine was so excited to see a friend. I kept extending the visits until I could eventually leave them together all day without hissing. Sweet Sunshine let Gizmo be the alpha cat, so there were really no issues.
The next hurdle for Sunshine was going to be stairs. I live in a two story townhome, and until this point, I had baby gates at the top and bottom of the stairs, since Sunshine was still weak and only had one rear leg to push off of. He made an absolute fool of me one day when I left the baby gate open and he followed me up the stairs. I cried with so much pride that this little fighter was beating all the odds.
I knew we were finally in the clear when all his wounds were healed, his cone came off, and the vet gave him a clean bill of health. Thanks to all the supporters that donated to Sunshine’s medical care from the beginning, his vet bills were covered 100% and we donated the remainder in his account to Illinois Animal Rescue to help other animals in need.
On May 10, 2015, Mother’s Day…. a day that would normally have broken my heart since losing my mom.. we made it official and I adopted Sunshine. Kim came to my home to visit him and fill out the paperwork… what an amazing day it was! In less than 3 months, I went from meeting a special orange tabby that I didn’t think was going to make it to becoming the mom of a healthy ball of fluff with 3 legs and half a tail. I didn’t think things could get any better. but Sunshine was about to change my life again.
Once Sunshine was healed and healthy, I discovered that this 2 year old tabby loved to play. My older boy, Gizmo, is a typical 12 year old who loves to lay in the sun and just enjoy life and I could see that Sunshine was disappointed every time he tried to get Gizmo to play and he would just walk away. So I decided to rescue again! I actually wound up with 14 week old kittens from the same litter as a gift for Sunshine. When they came home, Sunshine blossomed. He would chase the kittens, run from them, wrestle with them, and then lay down with them and groom them. He is the perfect big brother.
So needless to say, this year has been a whirlwind. I went from a very low point in my life to being the happiest I have ever been! I owe a great deal of gratitude to Sunshine and Illinois Animal Rescue for changing my life beyond measure. People constantly say how lucky Sunshine is… but I am the lucky one. Someone threw out this precious soul and obviously did not miss him. Without Kim Sterr and IAR, he would have been surely euthanized on 2/24/15. I frequently sit down with Sunshine and tell him how grateful I am that he did not give up and I promise him that he will never feel scared and alone again. He is an integral part of our family, and I could care less that he has 3 legs, half a tail, and fur that lays funny in places from all his scarring. To me, he is absolutely perfect in every way.
Want to see how Sunshine is doing today? Follow him on Facebook!
Illinois Animal Rescue is a not-for-profit, no-kill animal rescue group. They are a coalition of rescuers, transporters, fosters, vets, humane societies, investigators and shelters that advocate for and save homeless animals throughout the state of Illinois while educating the general public on the humane treatment of animals and the need for comprehensive spay and neutering programs. Support Illinois Animal Rescue at www.illinoisanimalrescueinc.org and Follow them on Facebook!